This was originally published on Huffington Post.
Sam Altman, soon-to-be President of the esteemed accelerator, Y Combinator (YC), posed a question on Twitter today, that a few friends prodded me to answer:
“Question for current and potential female founders – what could YC do to encourage you to start companies?”
My initial thought was, what took you so long to ask? What took this “Lean In,” “I’m a boss, not bossy” (or “I’m bossy and so what?!,” depending on who you ask), “Fem Tech” movement to finally be embraced by the male-dominated Silicon Valley startup scene? But rather than digress into a “shoulda, coulda, woulda” inquisition, I concluded that a more beneficial response would be to just answer the question. And so I did.
Here are 5 simple things I think YC and any other incubator, accelerator, and supporter of startups and entrepreneurialism, can do to get more women to start their own ventures:
1) Exposure (aka “Show n’ Tell”)
Show us women who are starting companies, and tell us how they’re doing it. There is nothing more impactful than social proof – exposing us to the fact that there are women, past and current, who have done or are doing this. Learning about who they are, and what they did to get there, can help women see the possibilities for themselves in a way that reading yet another article about Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk just doesn’t quite match up.
2) Early Exposure
Start the conversation about business, finance, entrepreneurship, and technology way before we spot “Entrepreneurship 101” in the course catalog leading up to the freshman year in college. We should be informed at an early age that building a startup is an option, and that there’s a way to prepare for it prior to graduating high school and selecting our major in college.
3) Men Take a Stand
Men, alongside women, should step up to lead the discussion about how to foster more female-led startups. Encourage men in your organization to engage in conversations and activities that result in increased empathy for the perspective and experience of female founders. Have the majority call for the inclusion of the minority. Now, wouldn’t that be a powerful shift from within!
4) Walk Your Talk
It’s one thing to say you want diversity; it’s another thing, entirely, to actually hire leaders in your organization that reflect the minority and can help you build a culture that is truly prepared to welcome and support the longevity of diversity in your organization. Truly be the change you wish to see, by first, getting the right people in the door to reflect your stance and support you in your goal of increasing diversity.
5) Access to Opportunities
Women need access to both the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, and network to start a company and the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned. So to those who are on the selection and/or funding committees of these startup courses, programs, incubators, and accelerators, and venture capital firms, this is where I’d encourage you to ask yourself questions like, Are we being intentional about how we market our program, in order to make sure we reach a female audience? Are we being mindful of our own judgments, preconceived notions, and stereotypes, and truly making the effort to screen aspiring entrepreneurs as objectively as possible?
Now, this obviously isn’t an exhaustive list about what can be done to close the gender gap in the tech/business/startup world (and I sure do hope others will offer their own suggestions). However, for what it’s worth, I hope it’s a start to moving us from dialogue to action – action that’s reflected in the true investment of time, talent, and discipline to make these much-needed changes a reality.
Oh, and by the way, Sam, for the sake of moving the conversation forward, I’d like to ask you a question, now: What will YC do to encourage other minority groups (e.g. African-Americans, Latinos) to start companies?