About two months ago, I hosted an event to connect female founders in my new home, Oakland, California. I’m no VC and I’m no angel investor. But I wanted to use the tools I personally had at Wefunder to help women entrepreneurs speak up about their businesses and share their struggles and wins with a crowd of supportive women so they can lift each other up.
A few years out of college, I noticed that I no longer had close female friends. Maybe it was a post graduation thing. But after my two best girlfriends moved out of state for work and school, I didn’t know how to make new close female friends outside of work anymore. And this loneliness creeped up on me especially at work, where most of the founders I interacted with daily were men and I sensed many spoke to me completely differently when they realized that a Jiwon was a woman, not a man. This blatant sexism became especially obvious when I went on business trips with Nick, my boss and CEO of Wefunder. In countless meetings, founders, including women, directed their questions only at Nick and didn’t even bother to give me a glimpse or a nod.
And I tried to justify it all. ‘I guess it makes sense. He’s the boss and founded the company. He’s the expertise in this field.’
But that doesn’t excuse one incident when a woman complimented him for how nice I’d looked. Nick looked at me with a funny, confused face and I had trouble registering what she’d just said. A few seconds later, it hit me. And I couldn’t let go of what had just happened. These small incidents eventually built up and on a miserable, stormy day in New York, I ranted to Nick for two hours.
I was unhappy with the way things were.
Because founders look only at Nick when we go to meetings together. Because even a woman founder working in fashion only directed her questions to Nick and didn’t even bother to acknowledge me. Because founders talk to my female coworker Theresa differently than when they speak with our male coworkers.
Because every day I notice that there are significantly more male founders than female founders on the platform that I work on and love.
After I was done ranting, Nick simply asked me, “Then, what are you gonna do about it?”
To be honest, I had no idea. I felt helpless. I felt insignificant. What could I do, really? How can I change people’s minds when even convincing one person is so rough?
I realized what I can do, what WE can do, is to listen and share the stories of women business owners all around us so more of them feel encouraged to pursue their dreams. We can encourage a friend who wants to start a dance studio to pursue her goals and help her gain her first ten customers. We can daily lift up our female coworkers, bosses and interns by promoting them, listening to their concerns and brainstorming ways they can improve at their jobs with honest feedback. We can tell a friend who needs more funding to take her business to another level and fundraise on Wefunder.
Our event wasn’t about female entrepreneurs being better or celebrating “Who run the world? Girls!” Because it’s not true.
Women aren’t better entrepreneurs but we’re equally great entrepreneurs. Our mothers and grandmothers have been entrepreneurs at home and rule our homes. Now it’s time for us to pull each other up to the top of the ladder until it’s not weird to see only women execs in Uber’s board of directors.
The Oakland event was about putting a spotlight that’s often not directed to female founders. So we can start seeing them and be curious about their stories.
These empowered women are everywhere if you look. That’s how I found our panelists and the currently fundraising Grease Box and Designer Inc. founders. These panelists and founders had ideas and latched onto them. They weren’t thinking about being “female founders.” They just wanted to build something from scratch. But they had to overcome obstacles- small and big, subtle and blatant- to get to where they are now. My mission at Wefunder is to continue to search for women founders and share their stories so that aspiring entrepreneurs like myself can meet badass founders that look like them and can relate to. That’s how we’ll have more female entrepreneurs and investors.
In a way, I’m glad that lady commented on how great I looked to Nick because it made me angry enough to do something about it. I hope that I can host more dinner parties with female coworkers, friends, and founders to share our challenges and victories with and support in the coming years.
p.s. I just got a text message from my friend Anna, founder of Lioness: “Hey, another porridge date?!”
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