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Not all women in tech are fashion-founders or eco-moms

Not all women in tech are fashion-founders or eco-moms

When doing a quick Google search on how to balance a baby and a business, I came across this NY Times article from last summer, about “a small group of women that are proving that it’s possible to start a high-growth technology company and have children at the same time.”

Oh wow, I thought. There is hope.

But as I read, instead of feeling encouraged and empowered, a general feeling of doubt, slightly coated with irrational jealousy, started creeping in. These women are nothing like me, or like anyone I know for that matter.

- Most of the women featured were founders of fashion companies: Gilt Groupe, Rent the Runway, Send the Trend, Rachel Leigh jewelry, Stella & Dot. Oh, and XO Group, the media company that owns The Knot, The Bump, WeddingChannel, etc.

- Their husbands were noted to have “high-powered jobs,” which though that meant no stay-at-home fathers, it also meant plenty of financial resources for full-time child care.

- In the article’s cover photo (seen here), two kids play peacefully on the floor of a bright, spacious office, as their beautiful, spotless mother in open-toe pumps and a white blazer throws her head back in effortless laughter.

Do you know these women? Who are impeccably dressed, can probably afford not to work at all, and who have made their passion for fashion the foundation of their career? I don’t. It’s like in your twenties, when you would hear these urban myths about girls who had the dream job, dream apartment and dream boyfriend all at once. It just seems unreal.

And it brings up a larger question: Are all female entrepreneurs starting fashion companies? Or if not fashion, something other type of company that primarily serves the female customer?

In the world of women’s magazines, there’s a formula called the Five F’s. They are fashion, family, food, fitness and finance. *I only know this because it was a Trivial Pursuit question that I once got wrong. In many ways, it seems that startups founded by women are falling into the same categories. If it’s not fashion, it’s healthy food, baby products, yoga wear or personal/household finance.

From Mashable’s list of 44 Female Founders Every Entrepreneur Should Know:
- 12 of the women started companies in the fashion and beauty space
- 6 of them created networks or media specifically for women
- 2 of the startups were in finance (tools, coupons)
- 2 of the women started companies for the art world
- 1 involved food and recipes
- 3 were co-founders of companies with their husbands or boyfriends

And this is just a sample. In total, out of the 44, only 12 had nothing to do with the five F’s or were created independently of a husband or boyfriend.

This means that 73%, or 3 out of every 4, of those female-founded businesses are centered around women. 

Now, there is absolutely something to be said for the fact that so many are starting companies that cater to women. First, it has been an underserved market, and one can argue that they are simply catching up, providing solutions to problems that men simply haven’t been able to solve. And second, it goes without saying that these female founders understand what women want and need, so who better than to provide products and services specifically for them?

There’s also a reason why we hear so much about these success stories: Blogher, Birchbox, Poshmark, Foodspotting. Because they ARE stories. One of the first lessons of startup PR is that if you have a founder who was pursuing a passion, or solving a problem that they personally had themselves — such as not being able to find affordable eco-products for their kids, or lack of female mentors in their industry — that’s great fodder for the media. You tell that story everywhere: on your About page, at conferences, during interviews. It makes you human and relatable, and it gives your company a strong vision.

What makes an even better story is when that company succeeds. When these female-founded companies hit their numbers and experience viral user growth, it’s clear that they’ve found a product-market fit. And they completely deserve the media attention they get for hitting that winning combination of human-story + business-success.

But it means that the majority of what we read or hear about in the media is these seemingly impossible stories about fashion-founders and eco-moms. They look fabulous, and they seem wildly happy and successful. It’s like the Facebook-phenomenon of perceived perfection — only worse, because there’s an unbiased third-party telling you how amazing they are.

I think there is an entire group of women who work in the tech startup world that could care less about fashion and baby products.

These women are whip-smart, hard-working and extremely passionate — just not about topics that typically are of special interest to women. They might be driven to bring people together and build communities, like Shavonnah Tièra, or helping small businesses with their digital strategy, like Meighan O’Toole. They may be into what are considered traditionally male topics, like sports, tech gadgets or video games, and have followed that interest to work at places like Pogoseat, the Max Borges agency or Electronic Arts.

In some cases, these women have no interest whatsoever in what the company does and are simply fired up about what they do, their role within the company and the impact they can have as part of a small team. They’re thrilled to be a full-stack marketer committed to providing user growth, or taking the full lead on a front-end development project. These are exciting opportunities available in a high-growth tech startup that you often don’t see at larger, less nimble companies.

So if you’re a woman in tech who is not a fashion-founder or eco-mom, kudos. Keep those white blazers out of your closet, and stay hot on whatever trail you’re on. If you’re a woman in tech who doesn’t have the budget to build a private nursery next to your office, don’t despair. Stop comparing yourself to those 3-5% of women who are senior executives at tech companies. Do you really want to be the next Marissa, Meg, or Sheryl? Do you have any idea of how stressed they are?

Here are some women-in-tech role models you might relate to more: Leah Busque of TaskRabbit. Rashmi Sinha of Slideshare. Victoria Ransom of Wildfire. Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America. These women are badass. As Leah noted during a panel with Chelsea Clinton earlier this month: “I never think about the fact that I’m a woman founder or CEO, I just think about what I have to do each day.” They’re just putting their heads down and getting the job done.

And as superficial as it may seem, these women look real to me. I see pictures of them or hear them give presentations, and they remind me of people I know in real life. They look like women that could balance “a baby and a business” — but might get a little rumpled doing it. Which is exactly how you feel when starting and company and a family at the same time: a little rumpled.