Entrepreneur and writer Penelope Trunk, in a BNET opinion piece, talks about how being a woman founder of a startup (versus a lifestyle business) is a distraction. Trunk says “The problem is that men and women are different at work, and the intensity of a startup magnifies these differences ten-fold.” The friction between the sexes can “cause drama,” something not needed at a startup.
She also says that diversity is good for Corporate America but not a startup - that it slows things down and can be stressful to the founders, keeping them from moving forward and focusing.
Trunk’s view got a lot of outcry from people who thought that she was saying women are bad for startups. I didn’t really get that impression from her piece. In fact, the title of her post was “Are Startups Better as Single-Gender Affairs?” The piece was really more about potential frictions when there are male and female startup founders.
In a response post, “Are Women Bad for Start-ups? You’ve Got To Be Kidding…” by Vanessa Camones, the Trunk article was interpreted as saying women are a distraction in startups. Well, Trunk wasn’t saying “women are a distraction” but again, she pointed out that having men and women at the helm of a startup can add distractions that could get the founders off track from the business at hand.
Trunk wasn’t saying women cannot helm startups. She wasn’t saying women are a problem.
And I’m not sure if it is as simple as “men and women don’t mix as leaders of a startup.” There are usually far more dynamics involved between co-founders of any startup.
I’ve started half a dozen companies, three of which were funded or funding bound and were started with others.
One company I started that received funding was with a male and there were definitely differences in how we worked and where we saw the company going. The differences caused some stress and distraction, but I can’t say it was a cut and dry set of differences related to gender. We were just different people.
I’ve started two companies with women, one funded and the other on the funding track. I have to say that the dynamics were definitely different working with another woman than working with a guy but that doesn’t mean things were always friction-free because we were women. Even women work differently and different personalities can cause different dynamics. At one of the companies, we brought on a male partner. And that did change the dynamic, but again, it didn’t seem to be related to gender per se.
Even though I can’t pinpoint specific gender-induced friction in my own companies, I do agree that when you put men and women in any situation - including the pressured environment of a high-growth startup - there could be some additional layers of stress, tension, complexity and issues that stem from gender differences. That’s just human nature.
So I think the post that caused the hubbub was blown out of proportion.
Women can be founders - and co-founders - of tech and high growth startups. But not all women. And not all men, by the way. Startups aren’t easy. Entrepreneur Tara Hunt gave a passionate speech at TedXConcordia about this. And yes, women can be at a disadvantage in a startup setting, more often because of outside perception and not that they are not capable. But there are a slew of women-helmed tech startups and more cropping up every day. That is awesome.
Are you cut out to be the founder of a tech startup? Why or why not?