Last week opened with not one, but two offensive presentations at TechCrunch Disrupt and closed with a fired chief executive of a start-up telling New York magazine, “Tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in.”
With The New Yorker’s long profile on Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg--whose kickoff of his female-focused website, Bustle, was deemed condescending by many in the media sector--it seems as if the week from hell, as far as female tech entrepreneurs are concerned, never ended.
The news sparked a dialogue about women’s current standing in tech, but many female tech entrepreneurs say they continue to face discrimination in their industry. “I'm still frequently mistaken for somebody's girlfriend or somebody's assistant at industry events,” said Kathryn Minshew, a Y Combinator alum whose site career-focused site, The Muse, draws one million monthly active users and raised $1.2 million in January. “As last week showed, there's still a long way to go.”
An imbalanced equation
Some female founders say they feel marginalized, while others have come to accept that sexism exists in the industry. “I’ve had people tell me that if I didn’t get a male founder, I wouldn’t be taken seriously,” said Kellee Khalil, whose online destination for brides-to-be, Loverly, launched over a year ago and net $1 million in funding.
Erica Mannherz, co-founder and strategy director of ClearHart, a digital innovation agency, said she started wearing glasses in an attempt to get more respect. “It was the best investment I’ve ever made," she said.
Though neither Khalil or Mannherz say they were surprised by last week's events, they feel the tech landscape, ever so slowly, is improving for women.
Filling the gap
Immature apps like Titstare and Circle Shake, which both debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt, are actually opportunities for women to stand out with something smarter. "If that's what they're going to spend their time making, that's a better opportunity for us," said Clara de Soto, ClearHart's other founder.
It also helps that the tech industry embraces transparency, said de Soto. Unlike in some male-dominated industries, tech founders are being called out for their piggish behavior.
That's not to say female tech entrepreneurs don't have to put up a fight to get ahead, said Khalil, but they're gaining ground. "Women are launching successful start-ups. Women are running companies. And that's only going to continue."
“She looks like she could run a $5 billion company”
So what can a woman do to improve her odds of succeeding as an entrepreneur in tech?
"My advice for female entrepreneurs is the same as I'd give to a man," said Khalil. "Be confident, develop a solution, and stop at nothing to achieve success."
"What's so powerful about tech is that it's a set of tools that anyone can pick up and it's meant to help solve problems," added de Soto. "Take advantage of those tools that are so much more accessible in the community and have faith in your perspective."
Minshew put it bluntly: “Ultimately, you have to play to your own definition of ‘she looks like she could run a $5 billion company someday.'" That kind of confidence makes you stand out.