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Blaming Women Entrepreneurs

February 14, 2012

One of my favorite writers over at Forbes is talking about Why Women Are to Blame For the “Pink Ghetto” of Entrepreneurs. Don’t worry, Meghan Casserly is not really blaming women. She is, as always, defending women (which is why she’s my Intergalactic Space Hero of the week. Okay I just made that up). But she brings up a tweet from Jolie O’Dell that sure seems to be blaming women:

“Women: stop making start-ups about fashion, shopping and babies. At least for the next few years. You’re embarrassing me.”

Casserly is sympathetic, pointing out that she receives many emails on start ups from women that all focus on makeup or kids or clothes. But Casserly points out that we often tell women to do that which they are passionate or knowledgeable about. To go start a business on some challenge they have fixed in their own lives. And this very well might have something to do with fashion or raising kids. Maybe the problem is then that these businesses are not seen as “real” businesses by the rest of the community. They are looked down upon.

Many industries as soon as they gain any good number of women are considered “soft” businesses: like teaching or nursing. A century ago these were a man’s occupations and women not serious enough for them. Now we encourage women to go into these fields because they allow for a woman’s “caring” or “sensible” side, let her “give back” to the community.

Anneke Jong from Daily Muse posts a similar article where she discusses Why I (Used to) Hate Pink-Collar Startups. At first Jong reacts much like O’Dell’s tweet above (with her own tweet as well). Then realizes she is diminishing other women’s accomplishments. She points out that not every start up needs to be tech driven.

As someone in a very non-soft field (engineers have their own hardness criteria) this all continues to be very amusing to me. On the one side, the “tech” most of the folks are talking about is software. As a mechanical engineer, the software side is very soft to me (it’s in the name! I mean come on!) Also, I blogged about the lack of women at tech conferences more than a year ago after the famous TechCrunch shortage. I have yet to be invited to any tech conferences. I have also yet to be given my medal for going into a male dominated field. I’m still waiting.

The point is, I did all the right things. I went into a very “technical” and male dominated field that was supposed to be higher paying than many of the female dominated fields. Every day I had to deal with the dinosaurs and doubting men who I work with, many of whom scarily enough in the 21st century honestly think a man’s brain is better attuned to being an engineer. Maybe where I’ve failed the female community (and why I haven’t gotten my medal yet) is that I haven’t gone out and started my highly technical business yet. You know why?

Starting a business is like getting a job. It’s more about who you know than what you know. Many of my male colleagues have networks and contacts built up within the industry. Their opinions are trusted more on technical matters than mine are. As a weird example, my male boss does not follow football any more or less than I do. But he gets comments about it all the time. People automatically assume he follows The Sports and discuss it with him. When they try to talk sports with me it’s more a test. They try to see if I watched the particular game they are discussing. I actually have to know more than a man about sports to be allowed to discuss sports. Same is true for engineering or any technical proficiency. Men have networks built up and have a serious playing field advantage here.

So if women feel confident in their ability to sell children’s books or whatever than I commend them. I say if there’s something you see a need for that you are passionate and confident about than go do that. Men may question women’s heads for business but they don’t often question their knowledge of makeup. Women are assumed to have an automatic superior knowledge in these areas even if they have never worn makeup in their lives. Women, you know what I am talking about. So I’m still waiting for my gold star for being a female engineer. And tech conferences you can invite me anytime to be a speaker. If I don’t hear anything I’m going to guess you found a guy who can talk about The Sports better than me.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2012 10:59 am

    I think woman can worry too much about what people “think” of their business. The judge of a business is how it delivers your goals to you, be that money, travel, fame whatever. If your business is meeting your goals for it, then it *is* a “real”, good business be it “pink”, “soft” or “girly”. If it exceeds your goals/expectations, then it is a GREAT business.

    When “We” encourage women to go into “soft” businesses who are “we”? Society? I remember back in the late 70’s at the careers fair they where falling over themselves to get girls to go into engineering jobs and science degrees, but few did. A number joined my Computer Science degree course, but almost as many swapped to a different course before the end of the first year.

    And who is the “us” that deems industries with a large number of women in as “soft”? I suspect that sometimes it is actually other women, who despite all the guff about “sisters” are the harshest critics of other women. It seems if a woman is not pushing back the glass ceiling and kicking sexism in the nuts then she’s simply not trying hard enough, in the eyes of others and particularly female journalists. I’ve never heard a man who said that these jobs are “soft” be taken seriously by other women – he’s more likely to get scalped.

    There are fewer women in tech businesses because there are fewer women than men that are truly interested in “tech” (in a fiddling with components, bits of wire and programs way). If we are to address this, we need to change society to make science and technology more appealing to women. How we do this, I don’t know, because I’m pretty sure this has been on the political agenda since the 60’s at least…

  2. frautech permalink*
    February 14, 2012 7:09 pm

    I don’t think I meant society encourages women to go into “soft” businesses. But that society tells everyone to start a business that they are passionate about and that they are an expert on. There are many women in tech but many are also given the impression they are not as technically savvy as their male peers. I’m also not so sure about women being the harshest critics of women. But in many cases if there are only a few token women who aren’t allowed to compete with the boys, they can definitely feel like their only option is to compete with one another. Businesses and folks in STEM education are the ones encouraging women to go into tech and engineering. But I have not seen any of the major engineering companies make a concerted effort to recruit more women. Perhaps if women felt more welcome in these fields they would be more likely to go into them. The idea that women don’t fiddle with things is of course a complete generalization. But if little girls have a tendency to fiddle with things, is that encouraged by society or not? I don’t think science and technology themselves need to be made more appealing, but the men who already work in STEM fields must be more open to women working with them and treating them as equally capable and letting them into their boys’ clubs every now and then. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Charles Gervasi permalink
    February 14, 2012 9:14 pm

    Getting things done is more important than sports banter and a good old boys network. Don’t let them psych you out. There’s ALWAYS something to belittle. I do not believe a boy’s network trumps getting things working.

  4. February 15, 2012 6:45 am

    Another great article, FrauTech. To address the points about “welcoming” and “encouraging” in your comment in response to the comment above, I’ve seen it swing almost to the other side. I’m in the South (of the US), so the men are very trained to be “gentlemen”. This actually makes for an awkward situation for junior females. For example, when we go to a restaurant as a company, they all hold the door for me, let me choose the table, and order first. But, since I’m not “in charge”, I don’t know how many people are in our party, if we’re on a time limit, or the price range to order in! My mother is old-fashioned, and thinks that this behavior is wonderful, because they’re so kind to treat me like a lady. My dad, on the other hand, understands my hesitance as a professional. So, it’s not like the men are always blatantly trying to shut the women out of the boys’ club, but when they choose golf as the morale builder, or scotch and cigars for client meetings, I’m not really welcome. This, coupled with “treating me like a lady”, hampers my ability to feel “welcome”. I would say that not only society at large, but also parents/friends/colleagues reenforce the acceptable behavior. I was never a tinkerer, but definitely had my fair share of princess dress-up, ballet, and “playing house” as a child. My parents are very supportive of my career ambition, but even the most supportive people don’t always understand the importance of my career vs. having children/being a “good” wife.

  5. February 27, 2012 6:55 pm

    Interesting rumination.

    I don’t know that it’s “society” so much as common sense that encourages would-be entrepreneurs to take up businesses they know something about. First time I heard that chestnut, lo these many years ago, was as a journalist interviewing some guy for a business weekly I was working for. He was talking about failure rates for business start-ups, which then as now were amazing, and he assumed the entrepreneur would be male…”she” was not a pronoun that entered the conversation. The point being, I suppose, that men are as likely as women to succeed or fail based on their knowledge (or lack thereof) of the product or service.

    And when I was an entrepreneurial young thing, a successful local businesswoman (one of the first women in the US to do a start-up in the communications industry) advised me never to join networks of women, because, said she, the men are the ones who have the power and so those are the ones you want to build business relationships with. She suggested that one think less about gender issues and more about business issues…and that’s what she modeled. She made sh!tloads of money and eventually sold her business to a gigantic international carrier for an even more outrageous amount.

    But, IMHO, if make-up is what you know, you could do a lot worse than to become the next Mary Kay Ash.

  6. George permalink
    March 2, 2012 11:55 pm

    “People automatically assume he follows The Sports and discuss it with him.[…] Men have networks built up and have a serious playing field advantage here.”

    As a man who doesn’t follow The Sports, yes, this is true. However when it is eventually discovered that I don’t follow The Sports, the social consequences are severe. And it is better to be discovered sooner rather than later, lest I risk seeming dishonest as well as disinterested. Better to say outright that I don’t watch The Sports at the earliest opportunity, but even then it’s a one-way ticket to becoming a pariah, and I would not call this one a playing field advantage.

  7. Mikeinthedirt permalink
    April 24, 2012 5:47 am

    How refreshing. As a civil engineer, I have to admit that an awful lot of “engineering” appears soft to me. Women are damned near at parity here- a jackalope knows no gender when it hits the ground. I only use ‘nearly’ because I don’t know every- thing and – one in the trade. And, of course, the blue-booth vs bush problem, although that’s not the dilemma it once was. Of COURSE go with what you know. Duh. Even a man could figure that out.

  8. May 19, 2012 6:45 am

    This reminds me of efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth after her husband died and she had to support their 12 kids. She couldn’t keep doing the factory stuff she’d been doing when her husband was alive because she was a woman, so she transitioned to making domestic housework more efficient, even though that was something she’d never really done herself. It was all she could get a job doing. (See: Belles on their toes, the sequel to Cheaper by the dozen.)


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