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with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

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The “Women Are Bad for Startups” Hubbub

Categories: Random Biz Rants

1 comment

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?

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One comment so far...

  • Not a tech startup, but I’ve been involved in a few all-women start-ups and a few mixed ones. The all-women ones are the ones that ended up most successful. Of course I have a one-sided view, but it seems to me that often, the male (especially older male) ego gets in the way as he cannot see women as professional equals. As long as the women are doing the accounting and making sure the bathrooms are cleaned, that’s cool, but as soon as the woman wants to be part of a discussion about nuts-and-bolts strategy, it gets ugly.

    Part of the problem may also be that entrepreneurial men are not used to communicating their ideas verbally so a business partner can understand them. They get frustrated with all the “let’s discuss” when they are certain they are right, but can’t explain why. Sometimes they are rude or condescending instead of realizing that communication is not only the responsibility of the listener.

    On the female side, then, what’s required is a tremendous amount of patience and a thick skin. Can’t get anything done if you spend half of your life feeling hurt or angry over a stupid comment. Either the man is worth dealing with, or he isn’t (I’ve walked away from some who most definitely are not). That’s really the question - not whether he speaks gently enough.

    The women starter-uppers I’ve worked with have been single and childless. I became a mom 4 years ago, and it does change the dynamic, and that is appropriate. I need to spend time with my kids, not work every waking hour. But, I’ve never seen any of the men starter-uppers work every waking hour, either.

    SKL  |  August 19th, 2011 at 3:30 pm