03/08/13 | Uncategorized

Silicon Valley's Catch-22: A Woman Strong Enough To Run A Company Is Too "Bitchy" To Fund?

A thought-provoking article argues that — unconsciously or not – fundraising female founders are still stigmatized for the kind of firmness that would be celebrated in a man, leaving them little room to maneuver. Do you agree? 

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Women don’t get ahead because they don’t ask, says a chorus of boosters of female accomplishment. If we could just get the ladies to take a firmer stand and be more assertive, they grumble, their professional problems would be well on the way to being solved.

Of please, respond researchers, women don’t ask because they’re not idiots.

“Women don’t negotiate their initial salaries as much as men. No doubt you’ve heard that,” writes Joan Williams on HuffPo recently, for instance. “What you probably haven’t heard is what happens when women do negotiate. Often, they end up worse off than if they’d kept their mouths shut.”

“Both men and women are less likely to want to work with or hire them. The effect size is large. Women who negotiated faced a penalty 5.5 times that faced by men,” she explains, citing recent research.

And, apparently, this isn’t just in massive corporations with retrograde values, according to an in-depth article in The Verge on why female founders still struggle to raise money. Supposedly progessive Silicon Valley also struggles with this bias, a fact the article illustrates with an anecdote from a female founder who discovered her gender had an unpleasant impact on her attempts to fundraise:

At one point, the founder was introduced via email to the head of a VC firm and got a reply from one of his associates. “We were given explicit advice that if we were introduced to a venture partner in a certain way and they passed us off to an associate, we were supposed to respond with, ‘Thanks so much. I’d love to talk, but I’m heads down on a product right now and I’m only able to talk to people with decision-making ability,’” she says. She composed a reply saying as much. Before sending, she showed it to five different male friends who were also founders and they thought the tone was fine. But the response she got from the associate at the firm was shocking. “I got a massive slap on the wrist,” she says. “The tone of the response I received was, ‘Don’t get too big for your britches, little girl.’ And it happened a second time as well.” When she showed the reply to the male founders, they were amazed by the brazenness of the email. They had never received anything similar in tone and couldn’t understand why the response was so cold and angry.

“It’s a very difficult balance between coming off as strong enough to lead a company but not so strong that you’re perceived as a bitch,” the founder justly complains. Check out the thoughtful article for much more on the problem.

Women 2.0 readers: Have you run into this catch-22 in your own career?

Image courtesy Flickr user Special*Dark.

About the writer: Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.

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