MEET THE MOST IN­NO­VA­TIVE WOMEN FOUNDER IN AMER­ICA

Inc. (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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