When you're not quite like everyone else in the professional box, you can opt to hide yourself to fit in, or you can lean into what makes you different and turn it into your advantage. Doing the latter is the best choice you'll ever make, according to Brianna Rader.
Rader is the Founder and CEO of Juicebox It, Inc., which provides an app-based, anonymous platform for people to ask questions and seek advice from certified sex and relationship coaches. The goal of the company is to give people a safe, empowering place to talk about their sexuality, interpersonal connections and health. In starting the business, Rader has had to face her own status as a member of the LBGTQ community. And while she used to experience shame identifying as bisexual, she's been liberated by the realization that shame is, unfortunately, incredibly universal, and that everyone needs reassurance.
"I've realized that, when I tell my whole story [to customers], I gain a more passionate audience, Rader says, "because when I'm vulnerable, people feel more connected to my journey, our brand and our product. People see why I'm the right founder for Juicebox--I know how hard topics of sex and intimacy are. [...I] avoid the cookie cutter approach and ask different questions and challenge assumptions more than people who have never had to challenge fundamental life paths."
Adapt, but don't give in
While vulnerability helps on the customer side, Rader is still realistic when it comes to investors and partners. Biases are still there, and she doesn't sugarcoat what she's up against. Only 2 percent of the $85 billion that venture capitalists handed out in 2017, for example, went to female-founded teams. And if you don't look or behave like the investors you're pitching, you might have to work harder to prove yourself. In that context, Rader admittedly will adapt her language, or code switch, for the audience she has. She advises entrepreneurs to meet clients where they are, and to be as approachable as they can--humor is a fantastic tool. But she knows she can't please everyone, and there's a point where she no longer bends.
"My company, my mission and my existence are inherently political," she says, "so I've learned to embrace this to create a positive platform of discussion, rather than watering down my message."
And sometimes flat facts and stats still work to your advantage, too. When you read the room, you have to know when to present your story and when to present your metrics.
"At the end of the day, stakeholders want to hear about market opportunity, growth, traction and revenue. [...] If you have the growth, traction or revenue, then there are investors who won't continue to exclude you."
And if Rader gets rejected even after doing everything right, she doesn't let it get her down.
"The positive takeaway to blatant discrimination is that you as a founder know not to waste your time with those institutions and people anymore."
Building a workplace that feels like home
Because of her unique position, Rader asserts that making self-acceptance and inclusivity the norm in a business has two key requirements.
- Start with the leaders and management. "If you don't have diverse leaders and managers then I don't care how many training courses your employees complete or new policies you instate, your workplace will never be truly inclusive. And having one straight, white lady in your leadership doesn't cut it."
- Never disregard emotions in the workplace. "You spend the same amount of time with your co-workers (sometimes more) that you do with your loved ones. Feeling respected, heard, understood and appreciated at work is imperative. Discussing and showing emotions respectfully should be considered productive and an opportunity to dive deeper and learn about shortcomings, not considered unprofessional."
As you strive for this kind of authentic culture, don't fall into the trap of feeling isolated, because you're not.
"Juicebox has definitely made me more empathetic [...] Just by understanding my users' problems, I'm able to feel less alone in my own struggles, whether it be with my sexual identity or daily work stress. [...] Empathizing with Juicebox's users and learning their stories motivates me to continue when I'm feeling low in confidence."
"Startup success is never linear," Rader concludes. "This is different from your friends who chose a more traditional career path; they all have a playbook. Your highs are amazing and your lows can feel really low, and you're going to change your goals, strategy, and product over and over. You have to make your own playbook. The people who are successful are the ones with grit to stick with it. That's what truly makes an entrepreneur."