I truly don’t want my gender to be a deciding factor in my entrepreneurship journey, and I may very well be in the minority for this. Sure, when I’m around other accomplished women I get excited about these incredible people doing incredible things, but I feel the same way about my male counterparts.
Some Career Backstory
Growing up, I was a tomboy who turned into an emo, electric guitar-playing teenager with black eye shadow to match my nails (sorry, Mom), who didn’t totally feel like a part of the girl group she grew up around. I preferred to hang with my brother and his friends burning things. (Bro, you were so patient.)
In college, I worked in live production, which meant carrying 35 lb. stage monitors across stage, setting up staging, and climbing around the catwalks dropping motors and pulling cables. Once I “proved myself,” there was no gender. I worked as hard as my male counterparts, only rarely having to “pull the girl card.” And that was more of a height issue than anything.
This isn’t to brag; I’m grateful my coworkers treated me the way they did. These experiences and then some mean I’ve grown up into a fiercely independent woman, which is both good and bad.
All that to say, I’m not used to my gender being an issue in my career. What I’m feeling now could very well be a part of my proving process in this new part of life.
The Career Proving Ground
Like many recent graduates, I found myself starting over when it came to my place in the world. New network, new community and new challenges. Now, nearly two years later, I’ve seen first-hand the long-term rewards of the slow and steady work of quietly proving yourself as a hard worker with integrity.
One of these rewards, though, wasn’t something I was expecting. Recently, one of my articles on here was shared by a well-meaning woman, and I so appreciate her taking the time to share my article.
But once I saw “#femalefounder,” I got a tad irked. Call it my inner-tomboy rearing its head or my experience in a physically demanding job with men who didn’t care that I was a woman, but once again I was put in a corner because of my gender. Even if they didn’t intend it to be.
Yes, I am a woman, but I’m more than that.
I’m an entrepreneur.
I’m a writer.
I’m a marketer.
I’m a part of the Nashville tech community.
I’m learning to ignore the fear and try new things.
This proving ground isn’t because I’m a female founder, it’s because I’m a person. I don’t need to prove myself as a woman, I need to prove myself as a successful person. As a woman, I bring my own unique set of femininity and strength to the table, but my measure of success shouldn’t be measured by my gender. It should be measured by my work product.
Like Jen Spencer wrote in her piece for Entrepreneur about “women-in-whatever events,” those who emphasize gender have noble ideas, but when women in the tech industry are already underrepresented, the industry needs to “stop seeing women as being different.”
“I don’t want to attend your women in sales event. I do, however, want to attend your sales leadership, sales management or sales strategy events. The qualifier of being a woman is no more important than any other aspect or characteristic that separates me from my colleagues.” [Emphasis added.]
And that, my friends, is what I’ve been feeling since I began going to these types of professional events as a sophomore in college.
Let’s Change the Narrative
This is an issue that’s larger than one person in one city in one industry. It’s a balance of embracing our femininity while showing that our work product is a result of a hardworking professional. Not a hardworking professional woman.
To my fellow women who feel as I do: Don’t look down on those who enjoy the “women-in-whatever events.” They’re finding their journey through their career and life and deserve all the support they can get. We can support each other without isolating ourselves from men from whom we can learn and benefit. I’m writing this for myself as much as you.
To my fellow women who enjoy “women-in-whatever events”: If you feel at home at these events, by all means continue to go! I support your decision.
But, can I challenge you, as well? For every women’s event you attend, find a “mixed” networking event. You may find yourself gravitating towards the women, and you can get your feel by starting there, but I challenge you to walk up to some men and talk about their work, your work, whatever. If it’s industry specific, I promise you’ll have something in common. And if not, ask questions and learn about a different industry!
To the men: Not every woman feels out of place in a male-dominated industry or event. And on the flip side, not every woman feels at home. Mutual respect goes a long way, and we enjoy talking to you! Let’s learn something from each other.
Living With “Grit and Grace” in the Startup Community
Women, as we work to make a name for ourselves in the tech industry, let’s carry ourselves with what Meryl Streep calls “grit and grace.” (Politics aside, she makes some great points in that speech.)
“What does it take to be the first female anything? It takes grit and it takes grace.”
For the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to modify that a bit: what does it take to be a female in the tech community? Grit and grace. The grit to keep going when it seems like people want to call out our gender, and the grace to continue on and accept the compliments. Especially when those complimenting only mean the best, even if it’s not what you’re looking for.
I understand the sentiment behind that tweet, and I’m honored she thought my writing was important enough to share. But I also have the grit to work alongside men without calling out my gender.
And maybe I’m still working on perfecting the grace part. It’s a work in progress.
As women, we often give more disclaimers and apologies for our ideas, so even though I want to end this talking about the trepidation on publishing this piece, I’m not going to apologize for it.
You have an incredible, unique story, and you have a voice. It’s your responsibility to share your story to help others, and to do so with grit and grace. This is my story: my gender shouldn’t be a measure of my success as an entrepreneur.