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How Gender Inequality In Academia Translates To Startup Environments

The first time I read “Lean In,” I was skeptical.

Could there be such gender inequality with my fellow female companions, such self-sabotage? If so, how prevalent is this phenomena?

I began to seek out the impact of how gender roles affected my day-to-day life. I began by observing.

Being in an MBA program tailored to working professionals, I found something interesting. Yes, there were more males than females in my classes.

The candidate profile in my cohort was 59 percent male and 41 percent female, which is a slight discrepancy.

Interesting. But, probably one of the more saddening observations I found was within the start-up community.

Boise State University offers a highly innovative program that helps students from all disciplines (grad and undergrad) apply business skills to test the viability of their ideas.

The goal is to utilize lean methodology to lower the risk of spending thousands on an idea that doesn’t have “legs.” I joined the first cohort almost 18 months ago.

I previously noted my cohort’s gender demographics, but the following three cohorts were 100 percent male. Cohort sizes stayed similar in size, and overall, the program received more awareness on campus.

My experience in the program allowed me to sit in on angel investing meetings and networking events. Once again, I observed more males than females. Are women not as interested in business as men?

As my business grew from a vision on my whiteboard to actual revenue, I began working with primarily male mentors. What did I find?

Shockingly, I found nothing.

I was treated very similarly to my male colleagues in both the academic setting and as a female startup owner.

Yet, one of the differences I found is the occasional level of inappropriateness between men and women.

I want to ask all males a question: How many times have you been asked out, “hit on,” or received some type of inappropriate comment from a colleague? From my informal polls, not very many.

I know I’ve experienced this from time to time, so I polled some of my female counterparts, too. Almost all of them had experienced some level of inappropriateness in the workplace from a male colleague.

It’s important to note that while I have received some level of inappropriateness in the workplace, these incidents have been few and far between.

As a whole, my male mentors, colleagues and coworkers have been amazingly supportive and pushed me to stop second-guessing myself, take more risks and push outside of my comfort zone.

I thought about leaving this information out, knowing it would be controversial.

However, this is something women are dealing with that needs to be addressed, and awareness is key.

The point of this article is not to man-bash or point fingers at another gender, it’s to make us aware of the inherent struggles many women face and inform our society on how we can work toward a common goal to support each other.

In fact, in academia, I find male and female professors encourage women to take leadership roles, start businesses, sit at the table and focus on their careers. In a start-up environment, I have found a strong support system from my male and female colleagues.

I’ve formed an opinion on the topic of gender differences: In business, males primarily hold seats on boards and have C-level positions. That’s the world we live in.

Historically, business has been a “boys club.”

It’s changing, but not overnight, so both men and women need to lean in. How?

Recognize we have a common goal. Both genders want to be recognized, supported and appreciated in the workplace. Both genders want to achieve success, whatever that means to them.

They want somewhere they belong.

Men, be aware of gender differences and try not to deny them. They are real, and they are most likely affecting your friends, family and colleagues. Build others up by supporting their crazy ideas.

Let people make their own mistakes and find their own successes.

Recognize that women may not take as many risks as men and encourage them to step outside of their comfort zones. Women are being underutilized for leadership positions in businesses.

Be careful of jokes or comments you make in the workplace. Build women up, and promote them based on potential and accomplishment, not just their previous accomplishments.

Women, be careful of self-sabotaging.

As mentioned over and over again in “Lean In,” don’t make career decisions based on “if I might have children” or “my spouse’s career is more important than mine.”

Support women to take leadership roles and apply for new positions if they are no longer challenged where they are.

Encourage your friends to try new things, focus on their careers and strive to be in relationships that are true partnerships.

These are not easy or overnight solutions. It takes time to overcome limiting beliefs, societal norms and traditional thinking.

If we recognize differences and use those differences to our world’s advantage, I truly believe the world will be a better place.

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Whitney Hansen

Contributor

Whitney is an MBA student, entrepreneur, bikini competitor, wanderluster, & dance party extraordinaire. She’s passionate about trying things out of the social norm, Moscato wine & coffee. She blogs at http://www.whitneyhansen.com
Whitney is an MBA student, entrepreneur, bikini competitor, wanderluster, & dance party extraordinaire. She’s passionate about trying things out of the social norm, Moscato wine & coffee. She blogs at http://www.whitneyhansen.com

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