ConsumerBell CEO Ellie Cachette on Avoiding the Female Ghetto


By Ellie Cachette (Founder & CEO, ConsumerBell)

There’s something happening in New York Tech Scene: The female community is finding and establishing itself among the ranks of the techies in the Big Apple.

For a lot of reasons New York is not Silicon Valley, where the culture has matured to the point that everyone seems to look and dress the same; engineers rock their T-shirts or hoodies while VCs strut their nice leather belts. Everyone has their part to play. The culture is so cemented that it can replicated in startup communities around the world. It’s as if Silicon Valley is almost a nouveau social class which can be spotted nearly anywhere by a seasoned veteran.

New York is not the same. There are some brogrammers and hacksters in Brooklyn but the culture here is still finding itself. Founders generally wear slacks and nice shoes while the tech community has its own unique flavor – even in how and what it doest for meetups.

The interesting part about the New York scene however is the developing female community. In the NYC female community so far, two biggest divides are age and industry. Are you web 1.0 or mobile? Are you in something fashion related or problem related? And then there are the subgroups: the technical gals with backgrounds in design or engineering. There are the corporate girls who came from major consulting firms and want a task of creative freedom.

Then there’s the funded vs. non funded and even the “Husband Funded” who are women with ideas fully financially backed by life partners.

But there is one place that doesn’t get much attention or success. It’s the female ghetto.

The Female Ghetto

The female ghetto is the place women get stuck in when their idea revolves around something stereotypical female or “gender limited.” I know some amazing women within this space but it’s a tricky place to be. The Female Ghetto is where your only merits to your idea is via your gender:

“It’s for shopping… and I like to shop”
“x is the problem, I know I’m female”
“There need to be more beauty apps…”

Carissa Ganelli, CEO and Founder of Commerce Drivers, even pointed out casually, “Its tough because as an entrepreneur you don’t want to be limited to a certain area or feel restricted… I think about it often as I meet other female founders in similar spaces that I call the Female Ghetto.”

If women really wanted to follow statistics, they’d be making social games on Facebook. While highly saturated, females are having the highest gaming growth online and the companies making the games are led by men, designed by men, and programed by men –- for the most part.

Chasing a stereotype is not progress.

Innovators vs. Non-Innovators

And thus the women designing and building innovative apps are forced to resent the Barbie-like founders “changing the way we shop online.” I know a female founder changing the molecular biology of gas pipe lining so there’s less poison seeping into the water streams near major pipes. Genetic testing and family planning is evolving at a fast rate because of some female-backed research and our “heroes” are the very often the ones adding fuel to the very girly (stereotypes) we are trying to overcome. It confusing as community.

But not all within the community is underdeveloped. Our tech events run on time and usually involve wine and warm food. There might be a few backpacks in the crowd but generally everyone looks slightly corporate with a splash of bling and everyone is eager to get to know each other as some seasoned hawks prey on the newbies to the community.

Last week, Women 2.0 hosted global Founder Fridays in San Francisco, Madrid, New York and assorted global cities on the same night.

The first time ever and on the east coast I saw over 200 women in the room. All colors and shapes, the elder professional females tried to figure out what the younger generation was up to and everyone chatted amongst each other –- it became obvious the divide between who was trying to change the world and who wanted a quick win.

It will be interesting to see how the community continues to evolve and how us all work together but one of the last comments I got from the event the other night “Are you in the ghetto, too?”

Either the ghetto is growing or the awareness of the ghetto is growing. All I know is some of us are ready to change the world and in it for the long haul.

This post was originally posted at Social Times.

About the guest blogger: Ellie Cachette is Founder and CEO of ConsumerBell, helping companies and parents manage recalls while keeping kids safe. Recognized by the California State Senate as an “Outstanding Educator” in AIDS and Public health in 1997, Ellie has been an active supporter in the campaign to cure AIDS and promote healthy living. Ellie is a product safety junkie and strong advocate of Women 2.0, a Silicon Valley organization dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs.

  • Pamela Day

    I want to change the world AND I think there is room, and need for both types of entrepreneurs. If someone can figure out how to have a ‘quick win’ and that is what her heart/lifestyle etc needs – more power to her.

    What I want for women is choices. You want to do a beauty site – cool! Do the best beauty site you can do, go make, create! You want to disrupt healthcare, hallelujah!

    Not everyone wants to change the world, and plenty do – we need us all.

    Go forth!

  • Danesha Sapp

    +1 Pamela

    For whatever reason we feel as if “stereotypical” female founders are succeeding then obviously its causing “substantive” female founders to fail. This is so untrue. This is not a competition. Instead of attacking the types of startups founded, we need to become allies. There is room for everyone. If you are feeling shunned then maybe its because you are looking for acceptance in the wrong places.

  • Karolina Reiss

    Love the article as it totally reflects my impression of the Silicon Alley tech scene. I have launched a magazine, in which I interview female ground breakers in business, some of which are from the tech industry. Through the interviews and their insights I totally see how many women gravitate towards the more gender specific business type because it just feels “natural” or “easy” for them to engage in since it is usually an area that they are already familiar with. Having said that, as long as our society perceives female founders as starting such gender type businesses only, it will remain difficult for women entrepreneurs to make huge VC strides being perceived as “girls doing girly stuff”. However, I pretty much love and support every start-up a woman launches. Collectively through mutual support, we can overcome the fear of the unknown and go bigger and better if we want to. But we can’t just preach to the choir.

  • @Switchgirl

    I do see people falling into this “ghetto” as you describe it and it certainly challenges some of our thoughts about what we are doing. Personally, I’ve got a very female spin on my work and have for sometime and consider my work incredibly innovative and world changing. Fashion can change the world.

    As a designer and teacher – I always say do what you know and what you love. If you love the ins/outs of shopping then go for it.

    I don’t believe in an us vs. them society. Gender is somewhat irrelevant when it comes to what you want to do. My suggestion, if you don’t like that women are all huddling together making shopping apps create a community that seeks to engage and inspire women in other things. (Women 2.0 is one of those) Otherwise continue on with your own dreams and find the community that supports what you want to do even if it’s all men. In the end it is about the realization of the dream, not about gender.

    I understand this article is about raising our awareness and creating a dialog. But this energy could be put into informing women about other options and inspiring the confidence and excitement in other areas. Women are out there programming, doing business development, and designing systems. Innovation comes in all forms.

  • Ellen Badinelli

    Unfortunately, when it comes to raising funds, Gender is our Achilles heel- men still control the purse strings. Even the ‘female-centric’ known Angels/VCs rely on male board members to determine the viability of tech companies. I have come to realize that what female entrepreneurs require more than money is ‘door openers’ to conduct business, and linkedin is a poor substitute as it rarely permits an alliance to someone truly empowered to make critical business decisions. Interested in learning your experiences and how perhaps we can help each other so please chime in. Thanks.