Let’s face it. It’s not easy being a professional woman. There are assumptions, biases, and glass ceilings. You can be twice as good as the boy next door, but earn half as much. It’s common knowledge that when pitching VCs, women are judged on their past successes, while men are judged on their perceived potential.
The very traits that earn a man respect–assertiveness, confidence, laser focus–usually earn a woman liberal use of the “B” word. (Rhymes with “witch,” y’all.)
But, here’s why none of that fusses me too much:
Life isn’t easy. And of all the obstacles I could face, this one isn’t so bad.
In the early 1900s, immigrant entrepreneurs had it hard, too. They were in a society that–despite “give me your poor and weary” rhetoric–looked down on impoverished immigrants. Many of them were worse off than they would’ve been in their home countries.
But that didn’t stop Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, or Cornelius Vanderbilt from finding a modicum of success.
Those men didn’t agitate for equal access. They didn’t form “immigrant only” business groups. They didn’t throw a fit on social media (or the op-ed of the newspaper) every time an idiot said something stupid about immigrants.
They built their empires. Then, they established foundations that made it easier for others (all others) to build theirs.
The greatest thing we can do to advance the cause of professional women is succeed. Build our empires, then turn around and help the next generation (men and women) follow in our footsteps.
I’ve by no means even begun to reach the level of success I want to, but I’m already helping younger women get a better start in entrepreneurship than I did. And, when we talk about how to survive as women in the world, here are some of the things I tell them.
Perfect the Fake it ‘Til You Make It
Frankly, I’ve realized that this is basically the only thing men have over women in the workplace: they’re first class liars.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
In general, men know how to make their successes look bigger and their failures look smaller. They also know how to act like they know what they’re doing when they really have no idea.
Women tend to want to be more honest and open. Which ends up looking more like weakness.
Instead, get a clear picture of the woman you want to be, the successes you want to accomplish, then act like they’re already reality. Just like the men you know, when you start believing your own hype, you know you’re doing it right.
Use What Ya Got
My business partner publishes regularly on LinkedIn and has been busting my chops for months to do so as well. When I finally did, my second post garnered 3 times as many page views as his most popular one.
“Well, yeah,” he joked, “Because you got featured on the sexist group ‘Professional Women.’”
(Before you get up in arms, he was truly joking. While he badgered me to write more, he often said I would do better than him because I was already a better writer. Another tip for women: make the men around you your biggest fans.)
But, he was right about my ability to get featured in a popular category, and I’m happy to ride that advantage as far as I can, just like he would do for any strategic advantage he might come across.
Sometimes being the minority isn’t a bad thing. Who cares if you only got a role because they need a token woman. Kick ass in that role and the right people will start to take notice.
Understand the Invisible Game
I wish it were true that the world was 100% fair. But, like I tell my children daily, it isn’t.
While women shouldn’t spend their time raging against the system, it would be naive to act like the natural biases don’t matter either.
Remember, VCs typically judge women on achievements and men on potential. But, by nature of the startup pitch, there’s probably little “achievement.”
What does this mean to women entrepreneurs? You’ll either work hard to find the right investor, or you’ll have to (get to) bootstrap and maintain control of your company.
Study your surroundings. Know who your cheerleaders are and allow them to help you succeed. Learn the language and ways of the people you want to do business with.
And always, always find a way to provide real value to the people you meet.
Ignore the Assholes
Last but not least, no matter what you do or how the world evolves, there will always be assholes. No matter what they say, their actions will prove that they secretly think you should still be home in the kitchen. They’ll be rich and powerful, and you’ll think you can’t do anything without their approval.
You can. And you’ll be better off without them anyway.
That’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur. There is always a solution to a problem, and creativity flourishes under constraints. Work around the assholes–and the system–and that empire’s going to be built faster and more stable than you think it could be.
Finally, don’t assume that all men are out to keep you down. Most of us work in male-dominated industries, but 98% of the men I come across want to see me succeed and are willing to help me in whatever way I ask.
At the end of the day, things aren’t perfect, but we’re sure better off than we were 100 years ago.
Just keep building those empires. Brick by brick.