Nataly Kogan

“I don’t deny that there are some challenges [to being a woman entrepreneur], but I actually think we as women should talk about how it’s an advantage,” Co-founder and CEO of Happier Nataly Kogan told BostInno.

The conversation on female entrepreneurship – or how we’re even supposed to approach the conversation of female entrepreneurship – can be a tired one. But Kogan provides a fresh and frank perspective on the current situation, and one that she is prepared to share come Wednesday, March 19th in honor of The Ad Club’s Women Leadership Forum.

From founding startup Happier to contributing to larger companies like PayPal and Microsoft, Kogan knows the business and tech worlds well. The mother of one has spent her fair share of time in the typically male-dominated board rooms; between work and family, Kogan admits she clocks 20-hour days. Still, she remains resilient and optimistic about the diversifying dialogue around women and entrepreneurship.

Oftentimes, business conferences and events mean mingling in a sea of men clad in suits and ties, explained Kogan. “How many Bobs and Mikes are you going to remember?” posed Kogan. “If you know your stuff and work your butt off, I actually think being a woman is a big advantage. I think, unfortunately, that I see it being used as an excuse. But it gives you a unique starting point already.”

Seizing standing out as an opportunity barely skims the surface of Kogan’s stance on women innovators. The thought leader spilled her take on everything from men and women’s shared challenges managing parenting and C-suite performance to an idea she calls “entrepreneurship porn” with BostInno.

BostInno: Do you think women in tech face different challenges than women in other industries?

Nataly Kogan: I think some issues rise out of the perception of communication. You face the issue of coming off too strong. If you’re being too forceful, you’re bitchy. Too collaborative, you’re soft. At my company now, it’s much less relevant; it’s more of an issue in a larger organization. It’s more of a fine line to walk in terms of expected social behavior.

What do you think about the idea of working women having it all?

I think part of the debate that wasn’t being discussed however, was that being a senior woman at a large company is brutal, but it’s brutal for guys too. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I think there’s a legitimate choice that many people make to not do that. To not take on these crazy lives.

There are many days where I’m like, “Jesus Christ, I need a break.”

So, this is choice for, and a challenge that,  both men and women face?

Women are primarily still the primary child carer. I think there are legitimately some women who get discouraged…their companies aren’t helping out, they aren’t setting up flexible hours of day care. So they rationally say, “I don’t want that high profile of a job.”

The dialogue needs to shift away from mothers and women and towards parents. We need to talk about how do we integrate life and work in a better way. Our lives are fully integrated, we check work email at home, we think of kids at work. How do we help people juggle their responsibilities more effectively? What does a flexible work life look like? What structurally can we change for women and men who want to go into those positions?

… We don’t talk enough about men who want to be more involved in their family life. If you want to pick your kids up at school, depending on the board, it’s, “you’re such a hero dad,” or it’s, “why can’t your wife do it?”

So, how do we start ushering the dialogue in that direction?

I do think that as people, we need role models. I do think that the lack of many female role models, leading corporate boards, as CEOs in the media hurts the cause.

As humans we emulate human behavior, it becomes ingrained in our brain. Having those women share more, and specific stories makes a differences.

We need to stop talking about who’s ‘Leaning In’ and leaning out, and start talking about artificial separation.

What more can we be doing to encourage this conversation?

[At conferences and events where I speak on this subject,] there’s practically a line out the door of young women saying, “we want more stories like yours.” The media needs to get eyeballs on stories. And I understand it’s more exciting to write about more sensational stuff, and I don’t think we are seeing more stories on how women are successfully rising to the top…It’s the age of entrepreneurship porn. Entrepreneurs are like stars. But it’s the most lonely job and it’s really, really hard. We need to do more telling stories of how entrepreneurs are really doing.

Where do you think Boston stands in terms of women entrepreneurship?

There are a ton women doing great work. I admire Gail [Goodman] of Constant Contact and Sheila [Marcelo] of … and Diane Hessan from Communispace.

There’s many women building incredible companies here, and I hope I can be part of that class, but I can always do more. I try to do my best to go to speak at events and to honestly talk about it. I think [people] were surprised about how stressed out I was. I have a ton of success and a wonderful family, that’s all true, but I sleep two hours a night.