Three Big Lessons on Female Founders and Family-Friendly Work

Three Big Lessons on Female Founders and Family-Friendly Work

By Erica Orthmann

Earlier this week, I helped organize an event on family-friendly startup workplaces, and moderated a panel of female founders. The event was hosted by the Roxbury Innovation Center (RIC)—a new space from the Venture Cafe Foundation that focuses on bringing meeting spots, networking and learning opportunities to the diverse heart of the city.

The City of Boston has been doubling down on expanding the boundaries of the “innovation economy” outside of metro areas such as Boston’s Seaport District and Cambridge’s Kendall Square. RIC is a shining example of this commitment in action; it’s buzzing with community activity and smart people of nearly every race and socioeconomic background. LaunchSquad Boston loves being at places like the RIC, and we frequently plan events and programming focused on women in tech.

With that, I’ll share with you the top three things I learned from these incredible women, and why it matters.

Pictured from left: Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara; Rica Elysee, CEO of BeautyLynk; Nicole Castillo, National Advisor to Millennial Issues at Be Visible Latina; Elsa Sze, CEO of Agora; Donna Levin, Co-Founder of Care.com; Bobbie Carlton, CEO of Innovation Women

Pictured from left: Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara; Rica Elysee, CEO of BeautyLynk; Nicole Castillo, National Advisor to Millennial Issues at Be Visible Latina; Elsa Sze, CEO of Agora; Donna Levin, Co-Founder of Care.com; Bobbie Carlton, CEO of Innovation Women

Lesson 1: Support Working Parents

Recently, many strong leaders have set out to change startup culture, policies and overall equality for parental leave so both men and women can take stronger roles in raising their families. One of those people in Boston is Jess Iandioro, the VP of marketing at Drift, who gave a fantastic breakout session on building a family friendly startup. According to Jess, startups need to establish a culture of trust, where parents are accountable for the quality of their work, rather than the traditional notion of “hours logged” or facetime at the office. On the flip side, managers and colleagues need to support flexible schedules and family leave policies that give women a chance to continue in leadership tracks and raise families. The two are not mutually exclusive!

Why it matters: Pundits speculate why women in their 30s fall out of leadership roles, or choose to leave the workplace altogether. If more companies supported working parents, the traditional role of caregiver would balance out between men and women, creating a more equal opportunity workforce.

Lesson 2: Don’t Ask Permission

In the female founders panel, Elsa Sze of Agora mentioned that a female VC called her out on “asking permission” for her startup idea to be viable. Elsa’s point was that all too often, women ask for permission for their ideas, instead of confidently stating their position in the market and why their business model is unique. Once she got that feedback, she reconfigured how she pitched to VCs and ended up successfully raising her first financing round with Charles River Ventures. It turns out there was space for a socially conscious for-profit business. In other words, she found out that you can do well and do good!

Why it matters: High-achieving women often feel the effects of “impostor syndrome,” especially younger women in management roles. You don’t need anyone’s permission to have authority in the way that you speak or make recommendations; often you are uniquely qualified to be doing what you’re doing. You’re here for a reason!

Lesson 3: Raising Girls? Change the Way You Talk About Math

A male audience member raising a young girl asked the panelists what he could do to change the perception that math isn’t for girls. Nearly every panel member agreed that we need to change the conversation around the notion that math is tough for girls, which has zero basis in reality. Donna Levin of Care.com suggested changing the way we speak to our daughters: adjust positive affirmations like “You’re so good at that,” to “I really admire the way you solved that problem.” That way, when math becomes more difficult at the high school level, girls will value problem solving over positive affirmations.

Why it matters: We can achieve a deeper pipeline of women in STEM careers if we strengthen math skills at an earlier age and help young women navigate adversity in the classroom.

For more information on past LaunchSquad women in tech events, check out this post

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