Originally Published on Forbes
I was recently initiated into an invitation-only club for founders of agencies that offer services to startups. The idea is to have one founder from each category (branding, marketing, SEO, etc.) meet monthly and share ideas, insights and general knowledge that would help us all grow together.
Excited, I walked into the building for the first meeting. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I walked into the room, I realized I was the only woman there. Although unsurprised, I made note of it and ended up being the most vocal person in the room. I shared my insights and relevant experiences, but I found myself constantly apologizing for being so outspoken. I left the meeting feeling good about the connections I had made, but I had never felt more like a female founder in my life.
The next day, the organizer of the event called me, lamenting that I was the only woman there, and said that he just didn’t know any other female founders. I realized that I didn’t either. According to Fast Company and reported by AdAge, nearly 50% of women dream of opening their own businesses, but only 12% think it’s a realistic goal. An even smaller margin of those women end up starting their own companies.
Since then, I have made a concerted effort to connect with more female founders, but it highlighted an issue in my professional sphere. Why are there so few women in prominent roles within the creative, marketing and advertising industry when women make up to 85% of all purchasing decisions? In 2016, women reportedly made up only 11% of creative directors worldwide.
Women in many cultures, such as Hinduism, for example, are representative of a creative force. Think of Shakti, the great divine mother and the personification of creative power. Think of the way our bodies can create life. Well, that creative power, in some cases, is what constricts us. Many young women, 60% of those polled, believe that creative jobs require long hours and late nights, which translates into a non-conducive environment to start a family — not to mention that there is a gender pay gap that puts women at an even bigger disadvantage when trying to create work-life balance.
An arguably bigger hurdle is that 88% of young women say they lack female role models in the industry. Well, that should come as no surprise when you consider that only 0.1% of ad agencies are founded by women, and only 2% of venture capital investment goes to female founders; this is a shockingly low number.
These women are there for you to find. It’s a matter of extending what you are looking for, and you end up finding it everywhere. One perfect example is LinkedIn. Introducing yourself to female founders on social media platforms, if you connect with their work, is an easy way to extend your professional circle and can have a number of fabulous benefits. Share experiences, learn from one another and recommend one another to clients — show them that female leaders can be a wonderful resource for them as well.
Hiring women is not only a benefit to the woman herself, but to the team overall. Startups with at least one female founder perform better than those with an all-male team. Women hire more diversely — they hire other women, people of different ethnicities, people with different personalities, etc. That’s what makes a rich work environment where your employees benefit, and the work itself is created using a more diverse lens, ultimately becoming more relatable (and more effective) to a broader range of consumers.
We live in a richly diverse culture where those with different backgrounds are rising to the top. This fledgling global movement of women staking their claim must be nurtured. Let’s help each other get there.