For International Women’s Day, we asked 35+ female founders what observations they had since starting their businesses. Quickly, five themes emerged: community, motherhood, bias, self-discovery and resilience.
Settle in for a few of their stories on bias and lessons learned.
Amanda Hesser, Founder of Food 52
"I worried that my age would have a negative impact on fundraising. I was in my mid-thirties when we started and most founders raising seed capital were young men. I was concerned that investors would, perhaps unconsciously, make judgments about my abilities based on how different I looked and acted. But here I am – 10 years and several funding rounds later!"
Liz Wessel, Founder of WayUp
"When female CEO's are blunt and direct in the workplace, they can be called the B word, or are said to be unreasonable, crazy, or too nit-picky -- whereas when male leaders are direct with feedback, they are considered strong and diligent. I have unfortunately witnessed or dealt with several employees who exhibited sexism toward me without realizing it, whereas they seem to worship men when they say the exact same thing. The unfortunate thing is that the people I've witnessed this unconscious bias the most from are female employees, and less so male employees. I've heard much more successful female CEOs tell me (in an off the record capacity) that this would likely happen, but I've been so surprised to see it to be true in many situations."
Karson Humiston, Founder of Vangst
"Surround yourself with other female founders you can learn from, and if you're going to raise capital, make sure you have female investors on your cap table and on your board. It's amazing how supportive women are of each other, and I have amazing female founder friends + a few amazing female investors. I have been able to learn so much from them and I know they are always a phone call to think through any biz challenge with me. This kind of support is really important especially when (inevitability) the big challenges come up."
Lauren Kleban, Founder of LEKfit
"The BEST thing about being a female founder is that it now feels like women can play on the same playing field as our male counterparts. It feels like we’re earning the same respect. One thing I have observed is that there is still a subconscious expectation for women to be a role model/mother figure both at home and at work where men do not have that expectation."
Atara Bernstein, Founder of Pineapple Collaborative
"I’ve struggled with the double standard for women, the feeling that there’s no “right way to be.” You can’t be too tough or too soft. I’ve realized over time that I just need to be myself-- lean into my own strength and who I am authentically in order to be and feel successful."
Brittney Winbush, Founder of Alexandra Winbush
"I wish I knew more about the discrepancy in funding available for female founders & how there’s even more of a gap for black women. It cannot be denied that you need a good amount of capital to be able to scale your business. I’m thinking about this now as I near year 3 but I wish I had done more to set myself up financially because it’s difficult for female founders."
Anna Duckworth, Founder of Miss Grass
"As a founder, who happens also to be a woman, I've learned that there are still a lot of investors out there who think it's okay to ask a woman founder what they would never dare ask a man. I've had investors comment on my age during pitch meetings and pointedly ask whether I'm planning to have a baby on their watch. Don't tolerate that. Surround yourself with people who support you and respect your right to take up just as much room as the men out there, to have kids, and to live in balance in whatever way feels healthy for you."
Victoria Ashley, Founder of Laundry Day
"As a female founder, there is an expectation to be almost over-the-top with my "female founder-ness." I think it is such a beautiful thing to embrace, but I also think that that there is pressure that is put on female founders to make their identity and brand identity surrounding their femaleness."
Carly Stein, Founder of Beekeepers Naturals
"In my experience, there is more pressure on female entrepreneurs to share different aspects of their lives to create an example of a ‘woman who can do it all.’ This is tough, because ‘doing it all’ can be very subjective depending on who you’re talking to. On the flip side, there can be a lot of beauty that comes from sharing who you are with your customer!"
Jessica Assaf, Founder of Prima
"I wish female founders were asked more often how our feminine qualities, such as our female intuition, serve as an advantage in business. I wish we were celebrated for the strengths that make us women, rather than pressured to adhere to the traditionally masculine energy of business. I hope both women and men ultimately feel comfortable leading in their feminine energy in all aspects of life, setting a new tone for future generations."