On the back of this piece on Wired about the “ugliness of the tech industry” I felt this overwhelming urge to speak up on the subject of “sexism”.
It reminded me of a question I was asked yesterday by a male colleague, “have you found it hard to raise investment because of the female aspect of what you do?”
Ordinarily I run a mile from that line of questioning. In fact, over the years I have been asked to comment on the ‘glass ceiling’, ‘discrimination’ and a raft of other gender bias topics and I generally won’t do it. I have also been asked to speak at and attend all sorts of female-specific networking and business events, and a lot of the time I won’t attend. I don’t want to be seen to be mixing gender specifics with business. It’s almost as though if I attend or get involved that I’m admitting that there is an issue, which I quite simply refuse to dignify.
Which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen; here are just a couple of pearlers of late:
- One of New Zealand’s most famous businessmen declined to invest in my business because his wife won’t like that he’s spending time with a “young woman”. But (as a consolation prize) “what you’re doing is world leading”.
- A CEO of a global publishing business tells me how much he likes what I’m doing, asks to meet up to discuss, “it’s where we should be taking our business”. Then propositions me for a date. Oh…
- At an angel investment pitch I get challenged that the unique industry-first, world leading piece of software that we’ve invested heavily in creating ‘isn’t really tech though is it? It’s the beauty industry really.’
- A very senior banking director tells me that the reason no women presented (or were invited to attend) an investment pitch day was, “let’s be honest Jenene, because most female businesses are cottage industry”.
I haven’t really spoken about my examples above because I not only don’t want to sound like a whinger, or a poor loser, but most importantly I don’t want to not be a winner. I’m fiercely competitive and there’s no way in hell that I’m going to let “being a girl” get in my way. As though it’s some kind of handicap. I loved this video recently that spoke to the heart of that.
Because let’s be clear. It’s NOT.
I am not afraid to use ALL of my girly-ness to my advantage to get what I want. That’s not about using sex appeal. That means I fight with my mind, my heart and my spirit. If I look at the examples above, I have evidence right there of how my ability to look past gender and see opportunity is one of my greatest strengths. I don’t have a limitation in my vision; I don’t see things in black or white, or 50% as the perpetrators of the examples do. Each of those commentators will miss out on opportunities due to their limited thinking. It will hold them back.
Unlike Mike, Rob, Scottie, Kerry, Mark, Peter and two Andrew’s. Here are eight men who saw past the pink in the logo and invested in my company. That got over (or didn’t even consider being concerned) that we help women buy brazillians (and instead realised that we sell a shed load of them). Who didn’t stop to worry about what their partners would think (and instead focused on how much money could be made). Each of these men saw a $1 billion industry ready to be revamped. They could envision and share with me this idea of how we could create significant scale and change the way an industry (or several industries, for that matter) interact with its customers.
They got it.
You know, I’m as girly as they come. I like dressing up, I wear massive high heels when I present. I like clothes and make up. I like feeling pretty. It’s not unheard of at a board meeting to enjoy a quip on someone’s shoes. We like to think it’s helping the men with their fashion sense (as they generally roll their eyes at us). But here’s what I am also…driven, focused, creative, strategic and insightful. I have a brain that’s geared to create and I use it. I can look at any given scenario for an industry or product and draw conclusions on the implications of how it’s customer base will interact with it now and in the future. I think about use. To do that I use my emotional intelligence as much as any other skill set to think about how we can get people to care about something. Because at the end of the day knowing how people think is how we’ll create better products and services. And to do that you need a full set of non-biased vision lens on. Without them, we create one dimensional products and brands that never connect.
And we need that because the world has changed. We used to be able to operate businesses that could just create any old product, stick it on telly, reach an audience, sell stuff…and then go back through the cycle again. But that’s not how we receive or buy things today.
The channels we’re reachable on are scattered, fragmented and diverse. Communication has become super personal. Which means we feel differently about companies than we used to. If I’m going to let you spend time with me in my bed…or on the loo….or on the bus, or wherever else it may be that I choose to hear what you have to say (that is, I’m reading my emails, checking my newsfeed, etc on my mobile phone), I don’t want to be doing it with some faceless corporation who hasn’t a clue about what I need, want or desire. Or worse, who totally doesn’t get me at all and in fact makes my life harder, because they’ve refused to keep up with my needs, wants and desires and are acting as though it’s still 2004.
The reality is that on our journey to create a global business we will come across those who don’t get it. Or seemingly discriminate. Or who throw up other stumbling blocks. And that’s life and that’s just the course. But what I refuse to do is allow it to be our story.
So whether you are male or female is irrelevant. What you need to be in order to be on this journey with us is well rounded, emotionally intelligent and insightful. Able to see what people need, want and desire and then set about creating products, brands and services that make life easier. The ones who don’t will only hold us back.
Instead of being up in arms about sexism and discrimination, I choose to be thankful. Thank you to those stunning examples who made it incredibly easy for us to spot that you’re not right for us.