I often tell people I am an accidental tech founder. While I have always been entrepreneurial, I never imagined I would be founding a software company. In fact, as a middle schooler I remember perusing The Weekly Reader, a sort of introductory newspaper for adolescents, and reading a quote from Bill Gates saying he envisioned a future where every home would have a computer. This baffled me, because I couldn’t figure out why on earth you would need a computer in your home when all I did with the one sitting in the back of our classroom was play boring, cumbersome learning games.
How things have changed. Thirty years later, I am a SaaS founder and one of very few women with this title.
Only recently has anyone cared to pay attention to the number of female technology founders. In 2014, it was estimated that around 18% of tech start-ups had at least one female founder. Even fewer are sole female founders like myself. I didn’t know this when I began my venture, though that was probably a good thing. I have never been daunted by a challenge — in fact, I typically move through life very much the way I play chess: lock in a strategy, take action, and pivot on a dime — but I did notice rather quickly that I was often the only woman in the room. Even for a middle-aged woman who is very comfortable working with men, it can be lonely.
But I have to say that all of the men I have encountered on this journey have been incredibly supportive, respectful, encouraging, and generous. If not for the support of three men — my husband, my attorney, and my accountant — I probably wouldn’t have made the progress I have to date. I’m more grateful to them than they will ever know. I have never felt underestimated, as though my ideas were not taken seriously, or fallen victim to a stereotype by any of my male advisors, investors, or customers. In fact, the men I’ve met have almost universally expressed genuine excitement and validation for what I have accomplished and the solution my product provides. Frequently, they’ve asked “how can I help you with this?” and followed through on any requests I have made.
Strangely, the women I’ve met have been a harder sell. The majority have had a “prove it to me” attitude, which is fine but certainly different from the men who offered their time and financial investment quite freely. My experience may not be typical, I’m not sure. But, as I can only speak from my own perspective, I have often wondered why my ideas are met with less enthusiam by other women.
Why are women harder on one another? Why are we less risk tolerant than men? And why are we nearly absent in the world of technology?
Women have the ingenuity and skills to hold their own as any type of founder, including a tech founder. The women I have known since I was a small girl have always been resourceful, innovative, and capable of all the same things I am doing today and probably more. I’m not the smartest woman I know, far from it. I may be a bit more tenacious, driven, and comfortable with risk, but I know for a fact that women all over the world have just as good or better ideas than I have, every single day.
It is my theory that fear and a perceived lack of support may be the only things holding women back.
These are things we can fix, ladies! We can be better supporters of other female entrepreneurs, we can foster a sense of confidence and ingenuity in our daughters and the young women we encounter who seek our advice or assistance. We can change the landscape by doing things every day that tell the world we care about more than what size clothing we wear, how to please a man, or what to make for dinner. I don’t say this to minimize any of these things, but I think more than battling actual discrimination from men, we are battling an image forced upon us by society that these are the things we do or should care most about.
We don’t have to buy in to that. We can reject it and flip the script simply by acting on our ideas and supporting that same ingenuity when we see it in others. We can be less judgmental of one another and stop sizing other women up and tearing them down if they don’t measure up to our standards or even if they exceed what we have done and trigger our own insecurities (sadly, I have witnessed this more often than I would like to admit).
We are better than this. It’s hard enough to establish equality in a world where our voice is barely present in government and corporate America. Now, more than ever, entrepreneurship can be a way for women to move out of poverty, discrimination, and even abuse to a life where they are truly independent.
It’s our move, and taking that leap is the first step toward unlimited possibilities.
Michelle Chaffee is the founder of älska, a care management platform set to launch in 2015. After 20 years as a healthcare professional, medical investigator, and professional patient advocate, Michelle saw the need for a solution that would connect patients with vital support systems, optimize communication, and securely store personal health information. She recently began blogging about her experiences as a tech entreprenuer at Lady Lion Tamer.