European startups are setting their footprint in the world markets with greater strength these days. It was great to watch Saul Klein’s presentation at Plugg recently, recalling the breath of innovation that many European entrepreneurs have regaled the world with. It was even better to see the great quality of startup presentations that took place on the day. But in my speech I went off on a slight tangent: it is time to hire more women into tech startups. The lack of them is now so obvious that is becoming a blatant sight for sore eyes in any VC portfolio.
When the media covers entrepreneurial activities it has often highlighted the lack of women entrepreneurs at the helm of startups. We are all familiar with the jokes about geeky boys doing startups, which the media loves. But the picture is bigger than that: women are missing from the top positions of most organisations and places of power, not just entrepreneurial ventures.
This monolithic reality is as old as the sun and I sadly feel that it’s going to take ages to change simply because it is too entrenched into the fabric of society. For a change like this, a complete and radical change of company dynamics, the world is going to need a social tsunami. An organic change can take decades. I do not want to wait any longer. I threw the toys out of the pram at Plugg. Now I am going to start yelling from the rooftops: GIVE ENTREPRENEURIAL WOMEN A CHANCE.
The best way to speed things up to create this change is in the organisations that begin their corporate lives with a blank page: startups.
Enterprises where innovation, change and challenges are the order of the day. If I was to launch this call, it had to be to them. Trying to tell GE, or Merrill Lynch, or BP to put a woman at the top to run the place would be like trying to convince a dog to give you his juicy bone. No way Jose. You get to those top-dog positions after years of political battles. Like any self-respecting Chieftain would do once at the top, you create even tougher rules to prevent your power being snatched. Not just by women: by anybody that wants to debunk you.
I am not asking for a change of power. At least not yet. I’d like to be more practical right now. I want two clear things: better products and better chances for women.
As a woman, I cannot live anymore allowing that 90% of the products I consume and purchase are created by men, and hence lack the ingredients that I know would appeal to me much more, as a member of 50% of the population.
Advertising does an amazing job camouflaging this reality with campaigns that sometime work – Gillette Venus razors, and some other times just annoys the whole female gender – pink laptops from you-know-who. I want design and services that appeal to me for real, that carry the creativity and talent that comes out of a female brain, a brain that is wired different to that of a man’s.
As a woman entrepreneur and running my own enterprises for now a decade, I also want social change. I want more women to be given the change to show how brilliant they are and the amazing value that they add to organisations and collaborative teams.
The world needs more women in startups because if these women in their 20s and 30s are given the chance to ignite the world with innovation and the power of their skills, there will be more chances of them entering the realm of power – monetary (if successful), corporate, even political (if they back politicians or get involved in philanthropy).
At Plugg, reactions to my ‘call to arms’ bursted out from people’s hearts the minute I announced it. ‘Yes, we need to hire more women’, was everyone’s consensus. But why not more women CEOs?
The steering position in a company is one hell of a ride. It is a hugely demanding occupation that I do not wish it forced upon anyone. You live enslaved to the whims of your board of directors, the swings of what the stock market does to your shares, the conference calls on the weekends, the 6.00am flights to foreign meetings and the dealing with individuals that live for the corporate kill and machiavelian intrigues.
You only do that for your baby, for the company you created if you manage to keep yourself at the steering wheel. Still, the hard truth is that no money or shares are worth having if you can’t see your children in the evening, or your weekends are interrupted, or you do not even know when you will be able to have a proper holiday or a rest.
The top, the top of power, is like Mordor in most of the cases because power, real power, if we are talking about helming FTSE100 corporations, corrupts. It is a tough place to survive if you are a man. It is even worse if you are a woman. I want women to make it there when it does not have to be like that.
Nowadays it’s still a bloody mess for everyone that dares. I did. Three times. I know what it is. It is enormous self-sacrifice for the growth and wellbeing of an enterprise. If it is well paid, when the depression kicks in the back of the taxi at 10.00 pm riding back home, it is the thought that at least you are (perhaps) making F.U. money – or perhaps very close to making it, if you have chances of a proper exit. It is a job for the brave, the few ones, male and female.
I am asking for a wider vision: the chance for more women to enter the entrepreneurial ranks and have the chance to show how awesome they are.
I don’t have a Geordie accent like Cheryl Cole but I’ll say it anyways in slightly Spanish-peppered English: “C’mon everybody, let’s see it. Women are worth it and it is time you let us show it”.