I’ve been pulled into a lot of conversations recently around the fundability of women and getting more women involved in tech and entrepreneurship. Its a topic that’s received a lot of media attention given Marissa’s appointment to Yahoo as CEO while she’s pregnant. I keep getting asked these questions around “Do women make for good CEOs” and “Are women good investments” and “Can a woman really have a family and be an entrepreneur?”
I thought I’d spend a little brain cycles here talking about my thoughts on this. My disclaimer is that I’m talking about gross generalizations based mostly on my empirical experience working with and investing in both men and women, and also pulling from my own experience as a female, with 2 small children (11 months and 2.5 years!). There are exceptions to every generalization.
First of all, a great study called Women at the Wheel came out showing that having women in C level roles or on your Board of Directors make for more profitable companies and better returns for investors. I love this study, because if anything is going to move the needle for women, it’s this. Show the industry how ANYTHING positively impacts the bottom line, and needles will be moved. The results of this study aren’t surprising to me. There are many reasons I think women make great executives and entrepreneurs. They include:
- Women tent to be less risk tolerant than men. They’ll hedge their bets, create Plans B and C, thus will generally be more prepared when things go wrong. They’ll step cautiously before making a risky decision and weigh all the options, instead of just charging head-long into it. So having a mix of men and women making decisions is a great idea – it allows for a more robust plan of attack.
- As a Part B to “women are less risk tolerant” – that means they’re more conservative. More conservative with their financial projections, more conservative with performance projections. This leads to many more pleasant surprises when things are going well, and fewer disappointments when they aren’t.
- Women tend to be less afraid to ask for help and openly discuss their limitations. I love this approach because if things are going wrong, or you suck at something, and I don’t know about it, I can’t help you fix it. Asking for help and being openly honest about your limitations means stronger companies.
- Women tend to be monster executors and are often more capable of multi-tasking. I think this is critical to a CEO skill set. I’d argue that women who have kids are particularly well suited for this role. If you have kids, you know how to keep multiple balls in the air simultaneously with a watchful eye on all of them, know how to get stuff done quickly and efficiently, and know how to put out fires and remain calm when the shit hits the fan. As a mom, it happens daily, no – hourly.
- Because they are generally less ego driven, they’re more about boosting the morale of their team and giving credit to them for things. I hear “we” much more often than I hear “I”. They tend to care deeply about their teams and work really hard to ensure their happiness.
- Interestingly, they tend to undervalue their contributions and work. This is good news/bad news. Good news for the investor b/c they won’t have the same salary demands, won’t ask for as high of company valuations, and won’t negotiate as hard. Investors can get more of the company for less money which means higher returns. This is clearly bad though for the woman, a weakness we all have to work on.
Some of the negatives about women CEOs
- Women have babies and are chemically/hormonally oriented around this. My husband stays at home with our 2 kids. And when our kids were born, my mom basically lived with us to help care for the infants while I worked. I figured I wouldn’t ever worry about them because I pretty much had it as good as it gets. But that wasn’t true. Women are chemically tied to their children. When they’re sick or sad, I’m STILL the first one to call the doctor and sit by their side and fret about medicines and dosage and temperatures and everything else. My husband doesn’t worry about it – he says “yep, they’re sick!” While I’m going through every disease and symptom and possibility in my head and calling the doctor 15 times. I’ll put everything, EVERYTHING on hold when my kids aren’t well, physically or emotionally. But flexible workplaces with teams to compensate for family needs don’t just benefit women with kids, they benefit the men too and make for stronger families at home. And the benefits of having a women CEO far outweigh this one challenge. This is what it is. Companies need to just embrace it.
- Because women are generally more conservative, they tend to think smaller. I know lots of men that dreamed of being a superhero and saving the world (or destroying it) when they were children. Most girls don’t think that way. But having an amazing Board of Directors in place can counteract this.
- I think women have a harder time letting a bad apple in the company go. They’ll work really hard to make things right for that person at the expense of the company. Sometimes, you just need to fire the bad apple and move on.
- I think generally women aren’t great negotiators. We think that the world is a just and fair place, that we get what we deserve. We won’t fight hard for salaries because we think we’re being paid what we deserve. I heard a great analogy to this – that women are compensated for their performance and men are compensated for their potential. If this is true, I don’t fault men for this – its women’s fault b/c we don’t fight for it.
- We tend to be more apologetic, more self-conscious, and less risky than our male counterparts.
Alrighty then, now that I’ve convinced you to put more women in executive and board seats of your company, the key becomes HOW.
- First of all, support sport programs for young girls. Did you know that 80% of all women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies were athletes? I LOVE this statistic. I don’t know if its because they have more confidence or are more competitive or are used to performance/working hard/kicking ass… but who cares. Let’s help create a pipeline of strong young girls who grow up to be capable, strong women. Added bonus is that they’re probably less susceptible to violence at home, early pregnancies, and all the other things that can create a vicious cycle.
- Secondly, support STEM and specifically girls in STEM programs. Along these lines – support NCWIT. It’s a great national program based out of Boulder that works across the country to increase girls involvement in STEM type activities.
- Give a woman a chance, but be supportive of her there. Hire her as CEO even if she doesn’t have CEO experience. Put her on the Board even if she doesn’t have board experience. Put resources around her to ensure her success.
- Give a ton of visibility to those women who are in the executive roles in your organization. They make great role models for other women and will be a great example for other companies that don’t have a lot of women represented. Highlight them in blog posts and newspaper/magazine articles and TV shows, invite them to be keynote speakers. Most women I know aren’t great self-promoters, so they won’t do this naturally on their own.
- Create a culture of flexibility in the workplace to ensure women that are also moms are comfortable taking executive rolls. A woman shouldn’t have to decide between a title and her kids.
- Hire women that have been out of the workforce for a while b/c they’ve been raising kids. Train them. Put resources into them and support them. It isn’t a negative that their last “job” was 10 years ago. I’ve hired 4 women in my life that had been out of the workforce for between 5-10 years. They were, hands down, some of the best hires I ever made. They were monster executors, humble, eager to learn and prove themselves, amazing multi-taskers, could handle crisis with ease, didn’t have ego…. They were all rising stars. And I’d be willing to bet that raising kids is much harder than whatever job you’re hiring them for.
- Be a mentor to an awesome woman. Women need encouragement and support, from both men AND women. So support your local badass lady and help get her to the top.