Leading with Authenticity: The Female Entrepreneur’s Experience

Leading with Authenticity: The Female Entrepreneur’s Experience

By Ellen Burr

On October 11, LaunchSquad and Microsoft New England teamed up to host the third women in tech panel for HUBWeek, Boston’s annual innovation festival.

This year’s event, ‘The Female Entrepreneur’s Experience in Boston,’ was moderated by Shirley Leung, a columnist for the Boston Globe, and featured five Boston-based lady bosses—Anna Palmer (Co-Founder and CEO of WonderMile), Sharon Kan (Pepperlane CEO), Emilia Javorsky (Physician-Scientist and Entrepreneur), Katherine Hays (CEO of Vivoom) and Catharina Mallet  (COO at Talla).

These five women-in-charge shared their advice on navigating the male-dominated Boston tech community, being an effective leader and finding ways to succeed despite periodic challenges.

Always Be Authentic

Katherine Hays kicked off the panel by sharing one of the toughest challenge she’s faced as an entrepreneur. After Hays left Goldman-Sachs to attend Harvard Business School and become a serial CEO, she found that her most difficult struggle wasn’t work-life balance or a lack of confidence in the business place. She grappled with finding an authentic way to be herself: “Developing a style aggressive enough to be an entrepreneur but one that felt honest was my biggest hurdle.”

Anna Palmer has worn many hats over the past decade. After graduating from Harvard Law in 2011, Palmer realized the legal field did not excite her as much as the prospect of launching a startup did. One year later, she founded Fashion Project, an online destination for designer clothing donation. Later, Palmer found herself on the other side of the table as an investment partner at Factor Ventures.

When asked for advice on tackling tougher funding rounds, Palmer shared her secret: “Know who you are, what gets you excited and what your strengths and weaknesses are.” The confidence gleaned from being yourself will help you find the right investors, Palmer said, and will ultimately make you a successful entrepreneur and leader.

“Authenticity is key” and “how to lead in a style unique to oneself” seemed to become the dual panel mantras during the HUBWeek event. Maintaining authenticity in a male-dominated environment was a real challenge for many of the panelists like Hays and Palmer. It was also touted by every one of the panelists as the key to being an effective leader, growing a company and securing funding.

Find a Good Mentor

Panelists talked about the importance of having mentors at several points during the event.

“The biggest thing in addressing imposter syndrome in the workplace is mentorship. Having mentors that believe in you, encourage you and tell you that you can do it, and you’re meant to do it,” said Emilia Javorsky.

“All of you that are in the market for a mentor, do your due diligence. Look for people who are fundamentally optimistic and have a 10,000-foot view of the world. They see the world as a place where there’s opportunity for everyone…and it’s not going to be at the expense of anyone else,” continued Javorsky.

The group concluded that good mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and women shouldn’t limit themselves to the female mentor pool. Each of the panelists agreed that some of their best mentors have been men.

Remember the Power of the Female Perspective

Sharon Kan – a bespectacled mother-of-two with a fiery personality – has worked in tech for over 20 years. However, she admitted during the event that it took her a while to realize being a woman in the industry is a competitive differentiator. Kan said she used to “talk, walk and drink like a man,” and even started following sports so she had something to chat about with male financiers, despite her personal disinterest in sports.

As the current CEO of a company dedicated to helping mothers start their own businesses, Kan has a new mantra when it comes to securing funding: “I don’t want to talk about sports. I want to talk about kids. And I still want you to write me a check.”

After all the panelists nodded in agreement, Catharina Mallet, confidently held her microphone and left the audience one final piece of advice: “Women bring a fresh perspective to male-dominated environments. And there’s power in that.”

For more from the panel, check out #HUBWeek on our Twitter @LaunchSquad.

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