Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.
Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.
None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.
I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”
Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.
I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.
Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?
It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?
We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.