Are Women Competitive Enough? Competition: It's Good For You


By Blake Landau (Blogger, What's Your Story) Editor's note: Apply to the Women 2.0 PITCH Startup Competition for early-stage startups with at least 1 female on the founding team. Deadline to apply is November 30, 2011.

When I was a kid, I was your average millennial -- by which I mean I was on a tight schedule of brownies, soccer practices, Hebrew school, mall outings and birthday parties.

In the context of AYSO soccer games, I was scary for someone only three and half feet tall. My face was bright red from running. My dad called me “the terminator." I would roll up my sleeves and destroy anyone in the path of my little size 1 cleats.

As the Terminator grew up, I unfortunately never channeled this competitive energy toward planning for my future.

I didn't practice doing budgets as a child. I never thought about what I would be when I grew up. It didn't occur to me that the values of the people around us in Orange County might be a little different than in other places in the world. I never tried to locate Malawi on a map.

It wasn’t my parent’s fault, they're good people. It just wasn’t popular to drive the message home that girls should have some kind of plan for their future. At least, no future that was bigger than keeping your figure, meeting a nice boy, and trimming the rose hedges. Even in 1995 the messages given were not “one day you will have to provide for yourself, and this is how you will do it.”

While I was a very competitive little kid, I was competitive about all the wrong things. I wish that I'd gotten excited about math when I was a child, that I'd gotten excited about saving money for the piggy bank, or anything other than Barbies and subsequently, Nordstrom. I regret that where I grew up girls weren't competitive about being providers for themselves and their future -- instead of ripping each other to shreds over the local version of US Weekly’s Who Wore It Best. This is how one wakes up, 25 years old, and living far from home. Broke, anxious, hating dependance -- on a person or a system -- and feeling stuck.

Women Are Great Competitors

Women are competitive about our clothes, our weight and the men we date. We are so busy competing about our own objectification that we give our power away. And we are participating in our own demise by continuing to reinforce these negative stereotypes by embodying them. For women trapped in this cycle, the saddest part is that they can't even see it.

A study out of the University of Chicago reports that men are 94% more likely than women to apply for a job with a salary potential that is dependent on outperforming their colleagues. According to the author, “a number of recent laboratory studies show that men are, by nature, more competitive than women.”

We have to stop talking about the challenges and start discussing solutions to help us become more competitive:

  • Are we encouraged to compete?
  • Are we given arenas within which to compete?
  • Are we given coaches?
  • Do we have examples of competitive women in front of us?

Where Did My Arena Go?

MissRepresentation is the brilliant OWN documentary that discusses depictions of women in the media. I watched it recently was touched by the story of Condeleezza Rice, 66th Secretary of State and now a Stanford Professor. She conveyed the time that President Bush was making amendments to Title IX.

Title IX was created in 1972 to bar gender discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds. Some called Bush's move an “underhanded way to weaken Title IX and make it easy for schools that aren't interested in providing equal opportunity for women to skirt the law," including Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

Rice said, in her quiet tone, and I paraphrase, “Mr. President, you can’t reverse Title IX. I mean, that would make you a complete ass. You don’t know what it was like to have to fight like we did to even get through college.” [note: these were not her exact words, as Condie Rice would never say the word "ass"!]

The changes to Title IX were intended to make it easier for schools taking federal money to appear compliant with Title IX while offering a greater number of athletic opportunities to men than to women. While supporters of some men's teams praised the changes, many women saw this as a major step backward for women's rights.

I look at policy changes such as this one and I question, could it be a systemic problem that women don’t compete like men do?

The Case For Competition

Rebecca Woodcock, co-founder of Cake Health, talks about the importance of competition for women founders in her article “Frenemies: Why Competition is Good for your Startup.” She argues that competition is good for women for the following reasons:

  1. Competition validates your crazy idea.
  2. Competition makes you step up your game.
  3. Competition heats up the space.
  4. Figuring out your competitors’ business model helps you define yours.
  5. Points of differentiation could make you potential partners with your competition.

Also from the article:

"For a couple of months, my co-founder and I got comfortable. We were progressing, but it was at a comfortable pace. We had time. Then I started getting information about a competitor from many different sources, including launch and fundraising, and we were running out of time. After we became more motivated thanks to healthy competition, we accomplished more in the month prior to launch than we had in the previous few months. Was it painful? Actually, we had more fun than ever before."

In the digital age, those of us who grew up using Facebook have had certain luxuries. If we don’t feel like meeting people in person, we don’t have to. If we want to sit in our pajamas all day with our coffee while Sex and the City or Animal Planet or Sanjay Gupta blares in the background, we can.

But there are problems with getting too comfortable. Competition is key to our development. We need to compete to get our ideas organized, to actually see the gestation of our plans and follow through on them. We need to take risks, we need to fail, we need to win, and we need to do all of it in a structured environment where we can get feedback.

Get Out There And Compete -- Be The Terminator!

Start with the upcoming Fifth Annual Women 2.0 PITCH: Startup Competition, open to early-stage ventures around the world. The deadline to apply is November 30, 2011.

Startup applicants must have a female in the founding team, be in beta stage, and have received less than a million dollars in funding. First 100 applications to PITCH are free, thanks to Bing!

Questions? Send email to

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Blake Landau is a blogger, speaker and consultant living in the San Francisc Bay Area. She's worked with brands such as Verizon Wireless on social media, branding, public relations and marketing. She started her career in customer strategy building Customer Management IQ, a social networking site and online business publication. She loves her running and book clubs. Blake blogs at What's Your Story?. Follow her on Twitter at @BlakeLandau.