MEET THE MOST INNOVATIVE WOMEN FOUNDER IN AMERICA
YOU CANNOT READ THIS month’s special report on women entrepreneurs and fail to be reminded—as if anyone in 2017 needed reminding—that there is no gender to creativity, determination, and guts. The report, which starts on page 71, singles out more than 30 women founders of businesses of all sizes, at all stages of growth, and in every imaginable industry.
Those industries most definitely include tech (apparently, some people in tech still do need reminding). If there are any doubts, I suggest reading senior editor Maria Aspan’s profile of Therese Tucker ( page 94), whose $123 million software company, BlackLine, went public in 2016 after nine consecutive years on the Inc. 5000. It now employs more than 700 people and has a market cap exceeding $1.5 billion.
Building a company to greatness, of course, requires a set of skills different from those needed to get it off the ground. I asked a couple of pros whether women founders, having exploded doubts about their ability to launch, now faced a new set of unhelpful stereotypes about their aptitude for leadership—and if so, what they should do about it.
After decades of advising startup CEOs of both genders, executive coach Alisa Cohn advises women to remember that stereotypes mean nothing in practice. The conventional meme, Cohn says, is that men are more socialized to lead. “But I’m here to tell you: Behind closed doors, men are just as prone to imposter syndrome as women,” she says.
Colonel Diane M. Ryan, an associate dean at Tufts University and a former member of the behavioral sciences and leadership faculty at West Point, believes that women do face one hurdle men don’t. As long as female leaders remain rare, she says, “there’s always going to be some jerk who declares that you’re a token and are taking the place of a more competent man.”
The eventual destruction of that myth, Ryan believes, lies in women’s rising visibility as leaders. Ryan points out that female cadets hold a disproportionate 43 percent of leadership roles in West Point’s current senior class. It may be no coincidence, she says, that when this class entered the Academy, it had what was then the largest proportion of women in West Point’s history—22 percent. “Twenty-two percent isn’t critical mass, but it’s getting there,” says Ryan—“critical mass” being the point at which women leaders are so commonplace that no individual bears the soul-sapping burden of representing the whole gender. “I’ve carried that weight,” says Ryan, “and it’s a pain in the ass.”
In the meantime, says Cohn, the key is “confidence, first, second, and third.” Winning your team’s trust is a process, not a single event, she says, and it requires thick skin, persistence, and, above all, faith in a truth that the women in this issue have proved beyond a doubt: “You have a right to be in charge.”
“I’ve carried that weight,” says Diane Ryan, “and it’s a pain in the ass.”