It’s been about a year since the start of the #metoo movement, and unless you’ve been asleep in a cave, you’ve probably been aware that things are changing quite dramatically all around us. Patterns of bad behavior that have been tolerated for years are finally being loudly challenged. Women are speaking out in all corners of society, from the entertainment industry to the business world and everywhere in between, setting new limits on what is acceptable treatment, and sparking a sometimes contentious conversation about consent.
Female business founders are no strangers to the often uphill battles we face as a relative minority in what is still largely a man’s world. But we gladly confront the challenges because, like it or not, we are as ambitious and passionate about our work as men are. In the spirit of a new level of awareness in our current climate, and to help us maintain some focus as we move through these tumultuous times, here are five sexist misconceptions about female business founders that really need to be discarded:
1. Women are going to have children, and that will negatively impact their ability to lead
OK, let’s examine this. First of all, not all women want to have children, in the same way that not all men want to be fathers. The fact is, parenthood does not necessarily fall completely on women the way it has in the past. Couples of all configurations co-parent children all the time.
Once a woman does have a child, childcare is just as available to her as it is to a man. It’s a bit sexist to assume that a baby will automatically be more of a distraction to a woman than it will be to a man. Moreover, although raising a child takes a lot of work and no doubt has an impact on a person’s time and energy, parenting also brings lots of new perspective and can sharpen priorities. In my case, my desire to spend more time with my kids drove my inspiration to create a time-saving app to help maximize my CrossFit training, which led to the creation of my company, Garnysh.
2. Women who have successful husbands don’t need careers of their own
When I first started my company, some people wondered why I even needed to create my own business. At the time, my husband worked at Google, and I think the reaction of many in the community was, “Oh, isn’t that cute, she wants to create a little company.” The fact is, marital status doesn’t make a woman’s business aspirations disappear. If anything, having a successful husband means that you have a built-in sounding board—a trusted colleague to offer feedback and suggestions and support your own success.
3. Women are too emotional
It’s hard to believe this one is still around, but the idea persists that we aren’t logical and rational enough to do well in business. First of all, everyone is emotional, it’s just that we are socialized to believe that it’s more acceptable for women to show their emotions. Both men and women experience a variety of feelings on a daily basis related to stress, hormones, whether or not they have gotten enough sleep, and so on. Understanding and being aware of one another’s emotions is a critical skill when it comes to running a business. And since we women have been defending ourselves for so long against the notion that we are over-emotional, we actually have plenty of practice at managing our own emotions and being sensitive to those of our colleagues.
4. She’s too pretty to run a company
It’s unfortunate, but in our society, women are still judged more by our looks than men are, and it’s a double-edged sword. While being considered attractive can certainly open doors, people tend to make a lot of unfair assumptions about a woman based on her appearance. For one thing, they might not give you credit for your skills and abilities that have nothing to do with looks. They might also target you for inappropriate behavior, based on the way you are dressed or how you might fit some image they have in their minds. It’s hard to get past the lens of objectification, as popular images of women are photoshopped into idealized, unrealistic versions of themselves. Fortunately, regardless of how we look, our talents will speak for themselves once we get to work.
5. In this new #MeToo era, women will overreact and misinterpret things that men say
While it’s true that many men may have this concern, and it’s possible that some women may be overly sensitive right now, the truth is, most women can tell the difference between neutral language and inappropriate behavior. As long as everyone does their best to be as clear as possible with one another and to communicate their questions and concerns with good intention, everything should be fine. The bottom line is, both men and women need to act professionally in a business setting, and companies can no longer tolerate condescending or derogatory treatment of female employees.
In the larger scheme of things, there is a real concern that with an increasing number of #metoo stories coming out, this may intensify a negative climate around hiring women and putting them into leadership positions. As the scrutiny on men’s behavior towards women in the workplace sharpens, some men may not want to take the risk of bringing women on to their teams for fear of complications. Perhaps this kind of blowback is to be expected during what is undoubtedly a time of deep cultural upheaval. Hopefully, this will be balanced out by the potential for positive change.
When we look broadly at business culture, we recognize that both men and women can have preconceived ideas about women in the workplace, whether they are conscious of them or not. As a woman in business myself, I have to keep these things in mind as I work to build a diverse team. It’s up to me to set the tone through my words as well as my actions, to help shape the kind of company culture I wish to create. I like to think that as a female founder, I set a good example of how women can operate successfully in the business world. Despite whatever changes and challenges we are currently facing, these are very exciting times to be a woman business leader.