From The Teen Inside Scoop, a blog for teenage girls, to co-authoring a book (We got to 40 pages!), my best friend Chelsea and I spent our childhood experimenting with entrepreneurship.
Despite the fact that none of our businesses officially launched, we were unwaveringly confident that we’d grow up to be powerful CEOs.
Ten years later, as I work on 33founders and Chelsea prepares for law school we often find ourselves having the conversation about how much we dislike the term “female CEO.”
Chelsea and I never set out to be “female CEOs.” Not because we didn’t believe that we’d lead companies one day; We simply didn’t know that being a woman and being a CEO were two mutually exclusive roles.
Thanks to my family, it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I learned about gender inequality.
My parents raised my brother Adam and me to believe that hard work is the ticket to success.
Thus, when exposed to gender disparities in my college classes, I shared the advice with my peers as a solution.
They stared back blankly.
Optimistically, I explained further. If you work hard you’ll be successful. You just have to put the effort in.
The blank stares continued, causing me to immaturely silence their perspectives in favor that my beliefs would solve the problem.
Shortly after graduation I was presented with another opportunity to contribute to the gender issue. As I tried to get involved the complexities I faced in class resurfaced.
Again, I chose to opt to out of the conversation. I didn’t want to celebrate female founders. I wanted to celebrate founders, regardless of their gender. I’ve never thought about the gender of the individuals I interview. I reach out to them because I care about their story, their grit, and the contribution they’re making to the world.
Fast forward 10 months. It finally hit me.
If more women said ‘Fuck you. I don’t want you in my business.’ This wouldn’t happen anymore.
My eyes widened at Joanne’s insight as I watched The 2015 Launch Festival.
If women are needing to say “Fuck you. I don’t want you in my business.”? clearly, there is a problem. A problem I need to stop ignoring.
I spent the next few weeks thinking about Joanne’s advice. For the first time, I felt an agency to abandon my jaded position and make a difference.
Although the realization was moving, I’m fortunate to have never experienced discrimination and still didn’t know what to do. I reached out to Joanne for help and couldn’t be more grateful to the course of action she exposed me to during our conversation.
Before starting the interview I shared my story with Joanne, especially the struggle I have with terms like “female CEO.”
I was so nervous she would think I was against female progress. To my surprise, she immediately understood my uncertainty.
Joanne responded simply. She told me to be bold.
Suddenly, I was the one staring back blankly.
She continued and explained that the most effective way to champion the conversation about gender is to speak up about discrimination when I see it, regardless of whether or not it’s geared towards me.
You have to have the boldness in you to stand up and say ‘Not okay.’
I learned from Joanne that standing up for myself, Chelsea, and even a woman that I don’t know is the greatest contribution I can make to champion the conversation about gender forward.
Highlighting these conversations on the front page, discussing them on panels, and perhaps more importantly, sharing them at the dinner table is the most impactful way we can achieve equality.
I entered my time with Joanne unsure about the current status of the gender issue. An eternal optimist, she feels we’re in a good place.
“When people are starting companies now they’re thinking ‘Do we have gender balance?’…These are really good conversations that people are having. If we continue to have them, change will come.
We’re seeing more women really build their companies at high valuations, exiting and becoming the voice for the next generation. As that happens, and more women are becoming investors, a lot of this will hopefully go away.”
Today, I urge you to be a part of the conversation. To have the courage to stand up for yourself, the people you care about, and those who you’ve never met.
We each have a mother, daughter, sister, or friend who deserves to be equal. Do it for them. I know I will.