Women leaders in IT/Startups

Vivek Wadhwa has started yet another interesting conversation on startups – this time on the dearth of female leaders in the IT space. I left a comment on Brad Feld’s blog in response to his response… and here is my response to Brad’s response and the original article. I guess it’s my response2.

The original point is summed up by Vivek as: women make great entrepreneurs but represent a tiny % of leaders at technology startup companies. (That’s not a direct quote, that is me summarizing in a 7th grade book report style.) As usual, Vivek has done a real study and has numbers to back up his conclusion.

Brad nicely hits the point: This is “about innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship.” (That is a direct quote.)

This whole point is something that my wife and I talk about a lot. She is at a tech startup; as am I. (We have some fascinating dinner conversations around HTML and the SalesForce Force.com API.) My comment on Brad’s blog pretty much explains where we are coming out on this issue:

Brad, I think a large part of the problem is pretty easy to understand. My wife and I both work at different startups; last night we were both at work pretty late. She didn’t finish up until around 10:30; I got done an hour or so before her but kept working for a while. We don’t have kids, but this lifestyle is not going to be possible when we do. Our highest performing women tend to marry high performing men (in my case I got lucky with my wife…). Since the burden of taking care of kids tends to fall on the woman, and since our best and brightest women are marrying men who have similar hard working lifestyles, something has to give. And it is usually the women’s careers.

There has got to be a business model taking top tier women with kids and getting them back into the workforce part time. That may be my next startup, but I’d be happy if someone else beat me to it.

This is a real issue. A couple of points that I see as “proof” that our best and brightest women are leaving the workforce: 1) A very high percent of female MBAs drop out of the workforce and become full time moms, much more than other professional female grad schoolers and 2) At the venture firms where I’ve worked, not a single one of the male partners’ wives worked. This is dozens of women, many with advanced degrees and who had very solid careers prior to doing the whole mommy thing.

I know that a lot of these women love being moms, but would also like to participate in the workforce. They are people who added a ton to the places they worked, but who don’t have the 70+ hours a week to commit now. There has to be a way to get them to find fulfilment both as a mom and as a startup exec.

Author: Healy Jones

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  1. Great example and suggestion. There are a variety of core issues – this is one that comes up over and over again.

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  2. Has anyone got numbers to prove that they want to be both mothers and startup execs?

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  3. I completely agree with the post (disclaimer…I'm Healy's wife). With our current schedules, we're bad parents even to our cats. If a woman wants children, she generally realizes pretty early that by age 35 or so, work will be a second priority and she’ll need a position that gets her home in the early evening. Many women would be dissuaded from starting a company (even in their 20s) given the huge time commitment and potentially long timeframe. If a woman works her way up the ladder at a start-up, she generally would be getting to the executive level at the same time she would be having kids and need to cut back on hours. I don’t think it’s a case of women not wanting to be startup execs, but that the timing and logistics make it difficult. The only “solutions” would be to not have kids or marry a not-very-career-oriented man. My female start-up exec friends don’t plan to have kids.

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  4. I'm one. :) I have four children, and am a startup co-founder and graduate of the Founder Institute (which I did by distance online, while my co-founders attended in the Valley – a very real and important benefit of FI, and one which I think showed in the number of women that went through).
    I'm also a graduate student writing a thesis on the mommyblogger community. One of the most interesting things to come to light during my research is the fact that many 'mompreneurs' are highly talented, experienced, educated and passionate who start their own online sites in response to being disengaged from their executive traditional jobs.
    Womens' identities are tied to what they do professionally (just as it is for men). I don't attend as many networking events because I'm looking after kids, working, laundry, and simply can't afford it. (I wasn't at the Angels Forum last night because strangely enough, I'm on the executive committee of the CU New Venture Challenge, and was at the IP Crash Course instead).
    I have had the experience of having one male startup founder shake my male co-founders' hands, and give me a condescending smile. However, I have also been treated with great respect by a lot of VCs and other founders – and it's those relationships I value the most. I do believe the incubators need to have female mentors (be proactive), and include some level flexibility in their schedules to demonstrate real interest in having more women on board.
    I believe it's a great thing to be thinking about, and we'll get somewhere if we don't believe we have all the answers before we consider what everyone has to say. :)

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  5. Very important issue this.
    I was the CEO of a consultancy firm [and had two kids while growing the firm from micro-to-medium sized enterprise] and now have moved on to start-up my first venture.
    Its a constant battle to bring up kids and balance business needs.
    All the VC's I have interacted with [in India, 99.9% were men] – have exceptionally qualified & experienced wives who have given up their career. In a few cases where the wives worked, they were in professions that were not time-intensive. The women took on all home/ kids related responsibilities.
    This debate will go on until we find a way to accept women who may work [flexi-hours or whatever the new model evolves to] and yet lead key bottom-line positions – I'm talking CEO/ CFO/ CTO.
    How do we get there – well I'm looking for answers too!

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  6. am i unnaturally seditious to suggest the high performing men can damn well balance parenting and career just as much as high-performing women are expected to?

    jesus. we're really not past this one yet.

    to win this, flexible schedules aren't going to cut it unless they are being accorded to the moms AND the dads. parenting is NOT a women's issue, and continuously framing the debate in those terms is regressive. parenting is a human issue.

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