By Tara Tiger Brown (Contributor, ForbesWoman)
That’s what a woman, on a panel made up of women, said to a room full of women at a women’s tech conference. Wait, it gets better. The panel was titled “What if you could create a startup?” and the female panelist that provided this sage advice is a Partner at the Venture Capital (VC) firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Imagine for a second what your reaction might be if you went to a panel to hear from other women about their experiences doing a tech startup and a VC, the person that funds startups, told you that she thinks that women should work on things they are naturally gifted at, and she believes shopping is one of them. After she uttered those words my mouth was agape for the rest of the panel.
Thankfully the moderator, Liz Gannes, spoke up and said emphatically, “I’m not naturally good at shopping!” to which the VC just looked at her blankly. I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t get why her advice was a little off the mark. I was especially disappointed because the room had a bunch of college grads in it that may take a statement like that more to heart that someone that has been out in the “real” world for awhile. I wish that someone in the audience had called her out on it. I wish that I had been that person, but I’m making up for it here.
The VC’s advice to women wanting to do a tech startup took me back to a year ago when I was working on my own startup, Noot, an interactive sports prediction game. I remember being on the phone with a VC in New York, pitching him on the idea. He complimented me and my co-founder and said that he had been pitched by 7 or 8 other companies with a similar idea but this was the first time he actually heard from a team that understood the problem space and had a good solution. I was excited and hopeful. Then he went on to tell me that I couldn’t be the CEO of the company because he was an expert in football and was an expert in the problem space and I wasn’t a good fit. I had never met this man before and had only spoken to him for those few minutes on the phone. With such little knowledge of me and my capabilities I instantly assumed he was gender stereotyping me. I don’t have proof, but let’s just say that the conversation didn’t continue.
It is entirely possible that our VC friend has put self-imposed limits on herself and doesn’t believe the sky is the limit for her so can’t possibly be for other women. It could be related to her upbringing. Perhaps she hasn’t met enough women that are tackling problems and industries that are male dominated. That would be true regardless because she is a VC in the tech industry, so it is very likely that she lacks great examples.
I would like to think there is hope for our female VC. We want her as an ally to women working on any tech startup focusing on any vertical and for her to believe in that woman’s success. The only way to show her that the sky is truly the limit for women and that natural abilities are not gender specific, women and men just do some things differently, is to show your expertise to her and any other doubters that are still of the mindset that women are naturally good at X.
To do that, us women that want to do a tech startup, or any business, need to raise our hands, speak up, write about it, show what you are good at and passionate about. Spend time reading VC’s blog posts, comment on them, show them that you are out there. Mark Suster at GRP Partners wrote a blog post “Why Aren’t There More Women Entrepreneurs” (and mentioned one of my posts about this very topic).
If we put some more effort in, then maybe the next time this VC speaks on a panel to a room full of hopeful women with the passion to do a startup, she’ll have a lot of great examples of women doing successful startups in male dominated industries and none have to do with shopping.
Update: Addie Beseda was in the audience during the panel and spoke up during the Q&A section of the panel to let the VC know that plenty of men are good shoppers too.
This post was originally posted at ForbesWoman.
About the guest blogger: Tara Tiger Brown has been working in the software industry for 15 years. Currently she is working on a new tech startup and runs a LA tech group for women: LAdy Tacos. Tara is passionate about finding mentors for women to get into, re-enter and maintain a great career in tech. Contact her if you want to be a mentor or need one. Follow her on Twitter at @tara.