Friday, November 18, 2011

Why NOT Invest in Women?

I have recently begun to dig deeper into statistics about women in business, technology, startups and investing ( and and every time it leaves me with one response – JAW DROPPING!

I feel this way more and more every day given my own experiences seeking capital for my technology start up OneGiving® ( (however successful or unsuccessful). Whatever the case, several things have really struck me about the process and how the dynamics have to shift for women in business, and particularly in technology, startups and investing. I am not saying, invest in women just to invest in women – a.k.a. through a gender lens, per se, but just not allowing gender be a barrier to investment. I am saying something has to change because the status quo is just not working--for women, but also for investors and the global economy at large!

I have been told more than once during my process seeking capital that I am too nice, hence I am not likely to succeed. I have had people tell me “if you are going to swim with sharks, you have to be a shark,” (or at least you have to play their game). Perhaps this is true, but I am not convinced!

I have also been asked, more than once, “Don’t you think if you dressed more conservatively or had more conservative hair, you’d have more investors by now?” My response to that is, “I’m sure I would, but I don’t want those investors, even if it takes me twice as long.” That may be stubborn but that is my reality. Why is it, that when men like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg come dressed in jeans and disheveled hair or otherwise, it is business as usual and they are a maverick or pioneer, so it is ok. Yet when a women shows up dressed in a way that is “unprofessional,” it is inexcusable or an indicator that she is not proficient in business.

Then I read a quote by Amy Millman, co-founder and president of SpringBoard Enterprises that connects women entrepreneurs to investors, who said, "Investors, like bankers, pretty much invest in what they know, something that they understand or that is clear to them." (

I started thinking...there is something inherently wrong with this picture and something has to change. That is, women are not men. We do things differently-in business and in relationship (as many of us have experienced personally ;). So if men are the largest share of investors, and they won't invest in what they don't understand or know, then they are not likely to invest in women. We are unfamiliar and "un-understandable" territory. It is no wonder that the statistics are what they are...less than 10% of women in CEO positions in technology startups - and that just scratches the surface. (

I am not trying to be skeptical, but the proposition is all wrong. They have their checklists of what to invest in—and women don't, and the way we do business often doesn't, fit into their checklist. We may learn to do the tap dance, or bend over backwards as we have for centuries to make things fit and work, but it is inauthentic and disingenuous in order to just to close a deal. Now I'm not saying that we both don't have to meet somewhere in the middle, but there is an inherent conflict in all of this.

It reminds me of my experience consulting for many years with large foundations. When I started working with many of them, they had (and continue to have) strict criteria and checklists of expectations that nonprofits submit to seek funding. When those funders reviewed the proposals, if the nonprofit didn’t "dot their i’s" or "cross their t’s," they often times wouldn’t get the grant. As I reviewed more and more proposals with funders, the pattern repeated. Nonprofits that had good grantwriters (and could afford one) would invariably get funding and the others wouldn’t.

Yet, many of the really good ideas were getting lost and dropped away because they didn’t put their explanation in the right place or capture the data in the way that the funder could fully grasp. This ultimately often damaged the caliber and quality of ideas and grantees that got funded and often the “less professionalized” and even "more marginalized" communities lost out because they didn’t “speak the same language.” My work with these funders was often in looking past the well-formatted applicants, to see beyond the "well-pitched exterior" to find the good idea in a haystack and then to provide the proper supports to help that organization make that needed gap being addressed succeed.

This is not much different than the investment world and companies that are pitching to investors. If they "pitch well," they get funded. If they don’t fit into the boxes that investors have, then they don’t get funded. If they don’t speak the same language – one that is understood by investors – then they don’t get funded. If they don’t look the same as, or in a way that is familiar or comfortable to, investors, then they don’t get funded. And an inherent flaw keeps getting regenerated and perpetuated—because we don’t look or act or are "un-understandable" to investors, then we don’t get funded.

Now the even bigger disservice is what this is doing for the economy. We are in a recession on par with the Great Depression (though few will say that publicly). Yet we continue do the same thing over and over again and expect different results – Insanity (as Einstein and others might say)!

As Jensine Larsen posited in her post in World Pulse, “Women manage money differently, and had there been more women at the helm of investment decisions all along, the worst of the global financial meltdown might have been averted.” (

It leads me to ponder a similar scenario, if the current investment marketplace isn’t working and the economy is spattering and sputtering trying to make a "recovery," then why not try something different? Why not, change your criteria a little, not accept less than, just accept different?

Look for things that might be out of the box. Be ok if you don’t fully understand it. And recognize that if a woman is standing in front of you and she looks different, speaks different, and highlights and does things a little differently than you would, don’t give her a demerit and check out, sit up and really listen. There might just be something in what she’s saying that could not only make you MORE money, but she might value the money you give her more, leverage it more wisely, and she might even make a difference on the planet at the same time. You might have to provide supports in some more “traditional” or "male" ways, but the perspective she brings, might transform it from an investment to a game changer. There is plenty of evidence and data that makes the case for it. (

So the question isn’t “Why Invest in Women?”…it is “Why NOT Invest in Women?”

You can find me at and and twitter @pilarstella.


  1. Pilar, I completely agree. Women should not have to be men to succeed or get a piece of the pie. When our culture (along with most world cultures) respect women for who they are and what they offer, we will have a more egalitarian and IMO more peaceful world (and funders for woman-owned start ups!) Have you read Half the Sky? I love Kristoff's and Wudunn's emphasis on economics and the importance of women in business. Now this may or may not be your cup of tea... but I buy soap from a company called Brambleberry in Washington State. The woman who runs this million dollar generating business won "small business of the year" in Washington and her approach to business is very interesting.... and very feminine! She writes about business practices a lot. Very interesting.

  2. Thanks Maybeline...good recommendations, I love Half the Sky...haven't heard about the soap, I'll check it out! Keep doing what you are doing! It is important that we all do our part! in gratitude ;) Pilar