The subtle art of not being fuc*ed in business
… when you are a woman.
Over the last years gender inequality became a widely commented subject, especially its pay and career advancement angle.
It seems like the discussion has become oversaturated and we don’t need more ‘awareness’ anymore, but rather support coming from ourselves – women. (I’m focusing on women in tech aspect here, as this is the industry I operate in in case you haven’t already noticed :)) Never mind that computer science was founded largely by women. Never mind, that in the mid-1800s, Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, did much of the work behind Charles Babbage’s proposed “analytical engine,” writing what’s now hailed as the world’s first computer program.
When did it start going wrong? Nobody can say. One theory holds that things changed as egos—and money—got involved. Another is that technical women lack role models in pop culture.
(The number of in-house female engineers in the HBO show Silicon Valley? Zero.) A recent MIT study found that when men and women made identical start-up pitches for more than 500 participants, the men were chosen nearly 70 percent of the time.
Nevertheless, the facts are there: we are being constantly screwed, whether it’s on our own wish or not.
Fact: Women are less liked if they are in the leadership positions. There is this weird correlation between likability and female success. If you have the temerity to do so while being a woman and/or a minority of some sort, you’ll often just face waves of harassment and abuse, regardless of how innocuous your statements are.
Fact: Woman sometimes can be a bi*ch to another woman for no good reason (both in personal and professional life). I am experiencing this first hand. Over those very few women holding senior positions in tech I get to reach out to, none is responding in the professional manner (Sad fact is, most of women are progressing their careers in Admin, HR or Recruitment and this is not what I’m after when doing business development for Amuse).
Fact: We are more apologetic, even if we haven’t screwed things over yet. We should ask for forgiveness after we’ve committed to something, not permission. I once took a month off the office working remotely; which in my case involved working from rose garden in Florence, bridge in Venice, checking my work emails on the phone and getting my dress dirty with Bolognese sauce (never with spaghetti!) in Bologna, similar thing in Napoli but with the pizza (yes, I’m that clumsy), writing BRD on the rocks in Malta, working from my sweet home in Kolobrzeg and few other places while DELIVERING my projects/tasks on time and as needed… All, while my manager thought I’m within the borders of London… – Yes, my Dear ex-employeer – sue me 🙂
We don’t need to feel pity for ourselves and we need to take what’s ours. Guys don’t have a problem with that. We have this many advantages which we don’t properly use. We worry about how we come across to people. We unintentionally apologise for qualities that would not only never be discussed or questioned if we were a man, but would actually be celebrated.
Great entrepreneurs are strong leaders who have clear visions for their businesses and just go for it. They move swiftly, decisively and expect the best from themselves as well as from those that they work with.
While there’s still a lot of work that society needs to do for women leaders to escape both other people’s biases and our own, we can make a difference too. Personally, I’ve stopped apologising long time ago for being aggressive or ambitious, and instead, I’ve been focusing on what any good entrepreneur should — building a great business. I will continue to apologise for being wrong, stubborn (hmm, that’s a tough one as I’m always right and can’t help it (: ) or selfish, but I won’t apologise for being a focused person who wants to aggressively grow a company. Nor will I not apologise for being ambitious and expecting the best. And I suggest other girls focus on that instead of cutting other women’s wings.
I’ve co-founded the Polish chapter of international NGO organisation Girls in Tech not on the grounds of feeling like we should be specially treated just because we are women, but rather to seek those ladies who do or want to do extraordinary things and… yes, change the world for the better.
Who do you work for, Baby Girl?
In the ideal world the above scenario would be our only problem. However, there is this unpleasant, uncomfortable issue of how some businessmen behave towards us when all we want is to establish common grounds for business. Let’s make it clear: if I wanted just a fuck, I wouldn’t bother analysing your business (and by that, I don’t mean the bulge on your trousers) and preparing a list of possible opportunities for collaboration. I wouldn’t spend days of preparing the best strategy for communication and devoutly execute follow-ups.
I take what I do seriously. I do pretty awesome things (not being humble when I should not be!) and I have a huge appetite for success.
Over the last few years I’ve learned that above all I need to be BOLD and SHAMELESS. It’s working in the nature within the animal world and it applies to us as well. If we behave and show fear like the preys do, we will be eaten alive before we know it.
Sad thing is, sometimes instead of raising the issue (usually related to sexual harassment or unfair treatment) to the authorities or the alleged superiors of the said dic*head – we are scared. We don’t want to fight a (as we consider it) lost battle. So we keep quiet and move on. Some of us start to seek the problem within ourselves (Was the dress too bright/dark/short/long? Was it something I said? Was I smiling too much? Was it wrong to accept a wine instead of a coffee? etc.). Stop. It’s not your fault that some full of complexes kid in adult clothes doesn’t know how to behave.
Things like these should be talked about loudly. As long as some uneducated males (and females) think that they are untouchable and use their position and power as the intimidating guns, we will continue experiencing these awkward, unacceptable behaviour. I know, as it happened to me few times.
Let’s get down to business
It’s hard to believe it happened, but I’m glad it did. I’m sure one day it will make for a great story in my biography.
It was in 2011, when I was building my first software business – Evoque – a platform allowing PR and Media pros to collaborate.
I was doing what other first time entrepreneurs do best – committing many mistakes such as; losing time on bureaucratic mess, trying to secure patents (Tip: it’s nearly impossible to patent software in the EU; impossible, if part of it is based on the open source ;), writing 40+pages business plan with pretty diagrams and graphs (5 year P&L forecasts on pre-traction startup, ha ha!), spending money on coders instead of seeking a tech co-founder (tip: you won’t find them on matching platform such as FoundersNation or CofounderLab, who you may find is a psycho, as I did :).
I had this very ambitious idea of using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to analyse sentiments over the Internet towards a brand/key subject, so the PR could react aptly to what’s happening the real time.
So… basically fuck-you-lean-MVP-I-am-doing-this-my-BIG-WAY-BIG-TIMES.
To build such an ambitious and complex beast, purchase sufficient processing machines and hire smart dev guys, I needed the funding. I calculated it together with some developers in my community for circa £100k-£120k before we could release the alpha. I was advised to raise £200k. So the hunt started.
Back at that time, I didn’t have any influential nor finance-focused connections. So I reached to anyone who could be some point of contact to the people I was after. It happened that my Italian, red-nosed flatmate was working as a top sommelier in one of the most luxurious hotels in London. He knew many high profile people as he became good acquaintance to them due to his wine knowledge. Having spoken to one of his clients who happened to be investing in tech, the said flatmate gave me the investor’s phone number. Few weeks later, I found myself in his penthouse in Park Lane, surrounded by what-the-author-had-in-mind-if-it-was-not-LSD type of art.
So the meeting went well (so I thought), the guy presented me to his financial advisor who listened to my pitch and who requested additional info about my business details. Leaving his home, my smile was probably wider than the Joker’s.
Over the next days I worked hard to provide all the necessary data they requested, I prepared myself the best I could for more Q&A and was ready for the meeting no2. The meeting went well (so I thought), they liked what they heard and the “investor” told me he can invest.
When he was assisting me to the door, he said:
“You can have this 200k deal signed and money transferred even tomorrow… but I like licking.“
(and here he showed me a gesture, which certainly wasn’t for Asian “peace!” sign…).
I didn’t know what to say and think. I don’t believe a career can be made through sleeping with someone so I kindly thanked the said investor for the offer, left the building and never contacted him again.
This could be a tragedy but now I laugh about it and I have turned it into a joke saying to my Man:
Lucky you K! You are leasing the 200k asset… (:
These situations won’t be happening and if the new and future generations of equality conscious parents raise boys to respect women for what they do and represent, not how they look.
This is an opportunity to celebrate achievements of women while calling for greater equality. There are millions of educated women entrepreneurs and corporate women working at every level in growth economies. These women, and the millions more like them, are graduating from universities around the world and are the future workforce of the global economy. If we guide them and develop these women, we can close the global talent shortage.
This is a call to you too, Dear Men.
Cover photo: Painting by Francisco Jose Albert Albusac