Every time I read an article about what women need to do to get ahead in the male-dominated tech world of VCs and startups, I cringe. The prescription feels simplistic, but this is not a simple problem.
Fiona Murray’s recent Boston Globe Magazine piece, “Playing by the Rules,” recommended wearing a uniform, speaking confidently, networking and watching sports to get ahead. Don’t get me wrong — I am sure these tactics can help, and the research is fascinating (she found that “companies pitched by men were about 40 percent more likely to receive funding than those led by women”). But should we all just become avid football fans? I, for one, will take a thoughtful David Sedaris essay in The New Yorker over football any fall Sunday.
At the heart of Murray’s recommendations is the fact that women need to take action today while we work on solving the broader education, political and economic issues we face. Here are the bleak facts we already know:
One of my favorite VCs once said that it’s just as important to be convincing as it is to be right. Confidence breeds success. We need to do a better job at mentoring women in confidence strategies. In a piece for Forbes, Dr. Candida Brush wrote, “In contrast to young men, young women are less likely to see opportunities, have a higher fear of failure and therefore, less likely to engage in entrepreneurship.” HSBC USA Chief Executive Irene Dorner echoed this when she talked about the problem of the “sticky floor” in The New York Times.
But confidence is teachable. It’s not something anyone is born with. When I quit my job to start InkHouse, my business partner and I would joke that we were faking it until we made it. We weren’t faking our knowledge about PR campaigns. We were faking the confidence of a much larger organization as we asked clients to take a bet on our nascent agency.
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I won’t pretend to know how to solve this very large problem, but in my small microcosm of the business world, I have seen the following tactics work for the women who succeed. As female entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to foster the next generation by teaching them to:
I will end with some good news. For every 10 men starting a business, there are eight women who are doing the same. Let’s make it 10 for 10.
Beth Monaghan is principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and content marketing agency with offices in Waltham, MA and San Francisco, CA. She blogs at InkLings and you can find her on Twitter @bamonaghan.