Sarah Fay is a Managing Director at Glasswing Ventures and has more than 20 years of experience in the marketing services industry. This piece was written in time with International Women’s Day.
Is it just a fact that old boys’ networks have provided a framework for men to support other men in growing their careers? Men benefit from well-established traditions and instincts – they are good at finding time to spend with each other outside the office. They get that not every conversation with colleagues and associates needs to move the needle on their next business objective, nor should it.
There is a theory that women are programmed to be competitive with other women, and will go out of their way to undermine them. In her book, “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg depicts a stereotype called the “Queen Bee,” who uses her power against other women instead of helping them. I’m sure there are instances of this, but I have a hard time believing it is the norm – and it hasn’t been my experience.
My own theory is that women may not be as natural as their male counterparts in dropping the urgency of their business objectives, and simply taking time to know each other better. Taking a page from the men’s playbook, we need to make the time to get to know our business partners, and understand the importance and value of engaging in this way, where these relationships become friendships. Who better to understand our roles, help us network and succeed?
This is a process that comes over time – which is why it is worth attending events such as the Female Founders Office Hours, which was recently hosted by Katie Rae at The Engine’s offices. The morning was dedicated to taking “time to get to know each other, and not pitch.” The day involved making connections, learning about the people behind the businesses, and making plans for future communication and gatherings. Rudina Seseri, our Managing Partner at Glasswing Ventures, and I spent the time meeting people who we both admire for their bravery and passion in pursuing their ideas.
If there is a business sector where women should stick together, it’s the VC and start up community, since female representation is pretty awful. Just 7 percent of VC partners and 17 percent of startup founders are women – but they only receive 2 percent of capital investments placed. We should collectively feel the injustice. Of course, the way women are viewed and treated throughout the ecosystem is garnering attention, and we need the buy-in of men to help fix the problem, as noted by my partner, Rudina, in a spirited article she wrote several months ago. I will add that we won’t make it far unless the women actually get behind each other.
Part of this involves giving advice and helping each other to succeed. And part of it may be more about listening a little harder, offering time, and gaining a sense of what makes a woman entrepreneur or VC tick. Obviously, no investor (including a woman investor) will put money in a company just because the founder is a woman – the business has to stand on its merits. But neither should the founder be discounted because she does not exhibit the traits of a man. Not every CEO needs to conjure the image of Braveheart to be deemed as competent. In fact, there are some leadership traits that tend to be stronger in women that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Moving forward, the energy from women in the start up and investment community feels positive. With initiatives such as the Female Founders Office Hours, associations such as PEWIN (Private Equity Women Investor Network) and the #StartWithEight initiative, we have the networking framework to get the ball rolling. It’s on all of us to put in the time to get to know one another outside the office and develop those relationships. It will surely result in lifting female representation in our sector.