We're constantly led to believe that men and women are more equal than they've ever been, especially in the workplace. But the stark reality is that many female founders are facing a tricky professional situation filled with sexual advances and discrimination as I have come to find out for myself. Why shouldn't women be able to work with male investors without this unnecessary attention?
Even though there have been improvements in the funding that female founders receive, there's still a long way to go. Recent studies demonstrated that in 2015, of those founders seeking money, 29% were women, which was a 16% decrease on the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of male founders seeking funding increased by 14%.
Sometimes Female Founders Are Subject to the Wrong Type of Interest in Investor Meetings
Many women are brought up with the misconception that neither math nor finance is a natural career path. But the truth is, often times it is women who manage family budgets. Women have what it takes to control a balance sheet within a company, guiding a fledgling business to success. However, there's something else that's holding them back; financial backing from male investors.
Young female entrepreneurs often want to embrace their feminine sides as they take leadership roles but this often has negative connotations when it comes to investor meetings. Some male investors may feign interest in a business idea but things quickly turn sour as the male investor starts to make non-business related advances. Why? Because these female founders will do whatever it takes to get them on board, right? Wrong!
Every female entrepreneur that I have spoken to about this has an "investor horror story", myself included. But the issue here is that we are so afraid to talk to others about them or share these anecdotes because we are led to believe that somehow it is our fault when a male investor crosses the line. Well it is not!
One woman who anonymously shared her story with Forbes said that she resorted to wearing a gold band on her wedding finger to thwart sexual advances. She claims it might be awkward if anyone asks about her “spouse" but this awkwardness would be far less egregiousness than having to side step an uncomfortable proposition.
I, of course, thought it was a brilliant way to repel any interest so I took her advice and started wearing a "fake" engagement ring to some of these meetings. To my surprise, even that didn't stop some of the prospective investors to ask me out for a drink, or talk about unrelated matters to my business.
One thing's for sure, women shouldn't be made to feel like they are responsible for a way the investor is disrespecting them. They shouldn't be ashamed of standing up for their business and calling out the investors who dare to take advantage of the situation to propose other non-business matters. This isn't a game of power. We work just as hard (if not harder) as our male counterparts and we shouldn't be afraid to take a stand when we aren't taken seriously because some men can't see beyond the physical appearance. We can't forget that we are offering investors opportunities to be part of possibly the next big thing and by crossing the line, they're the ones at loss, not us! But with so many young women going through situations like this and with no one talking about it, they're often discouraged from pursuing their passions, which is a huge barrier in acquiring their capital raise.
Even though many believe that the number of female founders and angels will continue to rise (in the U.S., $14 trillion or 51% of personal wealth is controlled by women, and it is anticipated to rise to $22 trillion by 2020), this shouldn't mean that women have to rely on each other to get ahead and to avoid the seedy advances made by some male angels.
Attracting Male Investors in the Right Way
The economy needs female founders. It is our job as a society to eradicate the narrow-minded belief that women are open to romantic advances when they're trying to get their businesses off the ground. Women make great business leaders and with the right male angel, a formidable partnership could be established – but the foundations of this need to be built on respect. We shouldn't have to dress like men in order to be treated or perceived as visionaries or business savvy. An important step towards changing this narrative is communication and transparency. The truth is women are still not given the benefit of the doubt, across the investor table, for being brilliant business leaders and starting multi-billion-dollar companies. I wasn't aware of that until I stepped into this game and experienced it for myself. Unfortunately, in some male investors' eyes we are still just girls with a Powerpoint and a dream. I'm a big believer in inclusion and not solving an issue by avoiding it. We can't just stop seeking male investors all around, because there are some amazing angels I have met that have been extremely supportive and respectful. What we need is for leaders in this industry to call and lift up women as visionaries. And just as Jennifer Hyman would say, "if every "big" investor recognized one to five female founders and CEOs with a set of positive and promising adjectives, maybe we would be living in a completely different world."
What is the cause of this decline and how do females escape gender disparities?
Without respect, it's not just these exceptional female entrepreneurs who are losing out but investors too. There are many reputable investors out there, willing to invest the right time, money and respect into female founders. But with the negative image portrayed of male investors thanks to a handful of disrespectful ones, many may be reluctant to step forward to provide female founders with the backing they deserve.
It is our job to provide both female founders and male investors with the right support network, allowing for open communication and a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. This will help to eradicate one of the biggest stumbling blocks for women with ambition – men who have nothing more than a cheap grope in mind when they attend a female investor meeting.
I know many women have stories to share in regards to their experiences with prospective investors. I personally would love to open up a conversation around this and hearing about other women's take on this. Let's talk!
WRITTEN BYIman Oubou