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Today, as I am sure you are aware is International Women’s Day today, a day in which around the world women’s achievements are celebrated from business, to political to social, whilst also calling for gender equality.
It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8 and Is is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations, and charities.
Having worked within the TMT, Startup and investment industries for well over a decade I have witnessed sexist behavior towards women and inequality, much like racism I believe this is a topic which has become socially unacceptable, but that doesn’t mean that it is always the case or it has gone away.
I mentor dozens of female founders and CEO’s, I also have many female friends within the European ecosystem and almost all of them have told me horrendous stories of being treated unfairly or abusively simply because they were female. Instances such as investors faking interest in investing so they can hit on them, others who have male colleagues who feel threatened by their talent and purposely try to hold back the success of their projects and in other cases being humiliated publically.
Also as a man, in male dominated environments you see a hidden or very blatant “Laddish culture” where it is seen as acceptable and almost a male bonding exercise to view or speak disrespectfully, crudely or even misogynistically about and to females. Now, of course, we all like to have a laugh and banter whilst at work, but when women are being objectified, held back or treated unfairly then it is unacceptable. Where to draw the line is an issue that affects the culture of any company and one which in my experience is determined by the emotional maturity of leaders, if employees see their leaders behaving in an unacceptable way then they many will mirror their beahviour.
Although there is much work currently being done to change matters, the fact is that the world of technology, startups, and investment remain, heavily male dominated, especially in positions of authority or leadership.
Only last month Susan Fowler an engineer at UBER released a
blog post about her experiences and sexual harassment at the ground transportation giant.
founder and CEO Travis Kalanick responded quickly on Twitter. “I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in,” wrote Kalanick, who claimed it was the “first time this has come to my attention.” “We seek to make UBER a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”
1/ What's described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired. https://t.co/6q29N7AL6E
— travis kalanick (@travisk) February 20, 2017
He also said the company’s recently hired head of human resources, Liane Hornsey, will be launching an “independent” investigation into Fowler’s claims, along with independent board member Arianna Huffington.
Hornsey, a former top-ranking Google HR exec, took over from the former head of HR Renee Atwood, who left after more than two and a half years in the role. Atwood had gone to Twitter last summer, but left there earlier this month.
What Susan Fowler’s blog post illustrates is that unfortunately that when there are instances of sexist or abusive behavior, it isn’t being rectified quickly enough or in many cases taken seriously at all.
Silja Litvin founder and CEO at PsycApps
, has experienced some instances of the difficulty females face and commented “One thing that keeps happening, though, is that at meetings, older men (and unfortunately sometimes women – internalised sexism) tend to speak to the men in my company instead of me. For example: I set up a meeting with a company that wants to collaborate with PsycApps. I am the Founder, CEO and specialist of my company, yet in the meeting they keep addressing their pitch to the developer that I brought with me for technical questions. That was quite disrespectful and frustrating.
When asked what she feels can be done to help solve the issues, Silja commented “I would suggest that companies that wish to work with female founders and employees and don’t want to end up in the news like Uber should have gender sensitisation seminars led by diversity specialists. I believe that most men would alter their behavior if they realized it”.
A female Founder and CEO who wishes to remain anonymous highlighted a more worrying experience and commented: “I have found it highly frustrating when dealing with potential Investors some of whom feel that it is acceptable to tell me that they want to sleep with me, I actually worry that should I take investment from them that this behavior would only increase. I also find that Linkedin is becoming more and more like a dating site and I constantly receive messages from people offering to help me, but they then proceed to act inappropriately”
Rosario Garcia de Zuniga COO at Headliner.io has experienced frustration and commented:
“At networking events, there have been people where they talk to me about technology assuming I know nothing about tech, and very obviously dumb-down the conversation for “some reason”.
When asked what she felt men could do to improve gender equality? Rosario said “I think it’s important that men (and women) don’t hesitate to call out bad or inappropriate behavior. To be clear, I don’t think we should publicly shame anyone, but there are private and professional ways to let people know that the way they may be acting in certain situations is not only offensive to the other 50% of the population, but also as a whole sets back our profession for everyone involved”.
Alex Isenegger – Founder and CEO of Linkilaw
commented on the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs: “The big bad world of business usually loves a large-and-in-charge personality. For women, there is still the issue of finding a balance. Many may ask themselves how they can be ‘assertive without being seen as aggressive’ or ‘feminine without being undermined’. Ultimately, just in any aspect of life, everyone, regardless of gender identity, is best when they are nothing more than their authentic self”.
When asked What men can do to support Gender Equality, Alex commented:
“Men should continue to be supportive and continue to grow with women. Gender discrimination isn’t a new issue – it’s a systemic cultural problem that affects everyone, regardless of their gender identity. By working together, life will improve for all of us”.
Positively many men now are big advocates of Gender Equality and how to achieve it,
Cain Ullah, Founder and CEO of Red Badger, says: “I often have employees ask me why we’re still talking about women in tech, as it shouldn’t be a thing any more. I agree, it shouldn’t, but the reality is, it is. For example, I was speaking to a female friend just last week, who’s a Chief Marketing Officer, I was shocked to hear that she’s still not met with the same respect as male colleagues when in a room of stakeholders, until people realise she’s a c-level executive.
“This is just one isolated anecdote that illustrates that there are still companies out there that are male-dominated, or promote men over women, in all senses, and that means that we need to still talk about it.
“At Red Badger, we didn’t set out to achieve gender equality in the sense of hiring women because they are women but we have achieved it by promoting an inclusive culture for like-minded people regardless of their gender. We will continue to support initiatives for women in tech, to try to set an example and to talk about it with an objective of influencing change for the better in the industry.”
Farooq Abbasi, Associate Partner at Venture Capital firm Mosaic Ventures and CoFounder of Diversity VC commented:
“When getting to know a new founder, an investor’s job is to assess product, metrics, and market. But it is imperative to understand a team’s personal goals, challenges, and motivations for taking one of the biggest professional risks in starting a new venture. The only way to truly learn a founder’s story is to make them feel welcome in telling an authentic narrative. When working with female founders, investors need to make sure that they know that conversations about gender diversity are welcome. Some female founders tend to avoid the subject with male investors, we need to let them know that these conversations are empowering, as they help remove any misunderstandings and information asymmetry between founder and investor. This is key to a successful relationship”
Indeed there are positive signs that gender equality is improving, but there is plenty more that can be done to accelerate this change. Leaders need to understand that they are the nucleus of their organisation and culture is such an important issue that is often neglected. To have a team which has shared values and sense of mission is quite often a pre-requisite of success and equality is a fundamentally essential part of”.
I encourage men to speak up in support of gender equality and anyone who witnesses or hears of unacceptable treatment of behavior towards women, should speak up, as sadly if that doesn’t happen nothing will change
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