Cindy Gallop is a warrior in the space between perception and reality. She's had a long and successful career in advertising, founding the U.S. office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1998 and serving as its chair. In 2012, with Corey Innis and Oonie Chase, she co-founded MakeLoveNotPorn as a counter to a popular culture that too often views sex through the lens of hardcore pornography.

Gallop, 54, is the first to admit that this is a tough slog: "I represent the triple whammy of unfundability," she says. "I'm female; I'm older; I have a venture that has to do with sex." Gallop recently spoke with me about the happiest day of her life, ageism in Silicon Valley, and why the next Mark Zuckerberg is female.

We read a lot about ageism and sexism in corporate America. Do women entrepreneurs face these same pressures?

This is a topic I feel strongly about. I tell people how old I am as often as possible--I'm 54, by the way--and I do that because I consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society, which is older women.

What is happening in venture capital is we've got a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys, because it's enormously comfortable. When any man meets a woman in a business context -- fact of life -- it is not as comfortable as being with someone of your own gender. Men are more inclined to be receptive to men and more inclined to champion men.

Where is the line between lack of receptiveness and outright bias?

I've seen young male friends have one meeting with a VC who is delighted with them because they hit all the checkboxes for a young white male in technology. That VC can make five phone calls, and in one week my friend has raised a shit-ton of money. It doesn't happen for women like that.

Fred Wilson did an interesting blog post where he listed the five qualities that, in his view, an entrepreneur has to have. The first one was a stubborn sense of self-belief. The second was confidence bordering on arrogance. I want to ask every VC: How do you feel when a woman comes in with a confidence bordering on arrogance? These are traits you applaud in men but not in women.

These social and cultural expectations and pressures are entirely driven by the fact that every sphere of pop culture and media is dominated by men. We as women are constantly provided with supposed aspirational role models, who are really us being played back to ourselves through the male gaze. And the male lens is predominantly assessing us in a sexual context. That creates a culture where women feel the pressure to look as young as possible as long as possible.

So is this more about being pretty than being young?

I still think it's more about age. When you are an older woman, you are automatically dismissed. It manifests in invisibility. I have gone to business events and sat at a table of men, and their eyes skate over me because I'm older and therefore not interesting. Older men become elder statesmen; older women are out of touch.

The young attractive female entrepreneurs have huge problems of their own. What's been written about is the tip of the bloody iceberg.

What should women do when they encounter ageism or sexism?

Actively stay away from situations and people that make you feel bad about yourself. A lot of women work in environments where it's very hard to do that. Get the hell out.

To both men and women, I would say, if you anticipate a number of objections to something about what you're doing or who you are, preempt them and tackle them head on. Do it in a way that is both straightforward and entertaining.

For example, when men negotiate, the general reception is, "What a go-getter!" When women negotiate, nobody likes them. A friend of mine was going to have to negotiate a salary package for a job she really wanted. She goes into this meeting and says, "I should just let you know right up front, I'm here to negotiate, and research has shown the moment I start doing that you're going to like me less." She just took that fact, put it on the table, and it went down extremely well.

There's been a lot of discussion lately that part of the problem is that women lack confidence. If a woman knows she's less likely to be funded than a man, isn't some lack of confidence entirely rational?

I really object to this idea that it's all about confidence. The issue here is that bias is innate and unconscious. You're getting male VCs rationally answering these questions about women and funding and being completely unable to see what's actually operating with their behavior.

So what should men do?

This is what I say to men: Men, it's very comfortable hiring people like you. Co-founding businesses with people like you. Hanging out with people like you. But if you want to own the future, you need to be prepared to actively get uncomfortable. Because the future is gender-equal.

Women have different approaches, different perspectives. Women ask the tough questions: What are you thinking? Why are you spending money on this? Why does the room fall silent when this person talks? Women can challenge the status quo because they never are the status quo.

What could women be doing to better mentor one another?

We need to just drop the word mentor and substitute champion. Women need what men get all the time: a man prepared to go out on a limb for them. For a man, recommending a woman to other men is uncomfortable. You are not going to believe in her in quite the same way you would believe in a man.

Are there advantages to being an older woman in the startup scene?

Where it really benefits a woman to be older is you just don't give a f---. The single best moment in my life is when I realized I no longer gave a damn what anyone else thought. You will never own the future if you care what other people think.

The older you get, the more confidence you get. The more you can see through the games and the silliness. That's why you see women saying they're not going to go the VC route. They get angel funding instead.

Is there something women can do to improve things?

It's not about what women need to do. It's about what the tech world needs to do. They are missing out big time. There is a huge amount of money to be made by taking women seriously.

Women are the primary sharers and users of social media, and so women will influence men more than men. It doesn't matter what your venture is, women are the most important audience. Also, because women are different, we think differently, and we are creative in different ways. The next Mark Zuckerberg is female. Women are absolutely coming up with disruptive ventures that aren't getting support or funding. It's a huge knock on the VC world.

 

Published on: Nov 6, 2014