This week, Harvey Weinstein, former board member of the Weinstein Company, was fired from the company he co-founded after over a dozen women alleged that he had sexually assaulted them, reporting incidents that date back to the early nineties. Though scores of top players in the entertainment industry are infamous for their misbehavior, sexism in all forms is present across all industries, even those perceived to be filled with progressives, such as in the technology industry. The incident this summer at Google demonstrates this pervasive problem, where a disgruntled male employee wrote a memo arguing that the biological differences between men and women is the cause for a gender gap in tech and computer sciences.
In the startup space, while it is perhaps safe to assume that most Venture Capitalists are not overtly, Weinstein-grade sexist, there nonetheless exists a slew of sociological conditions that cause all-male founded startups to receive about 84.9% of VC funding, or 5.6 times more investments than startups with one female co-founder. At the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, initiatives are being taken to encourage more female entrepreneurship that counters this bias, long before teams are ready to speak with investors. For example, the Entrepreneurial Institute launched the #NYUFemaleFounders Initiative to create a community of women entrepreneurs on campus to connect, learn and grow together throughout their startup journey.
Just this past summer, the Summer Launchpad Accelerator (SLP) program hosted nine teams, eight of which had a female founder. Of those, four had a woman as their CEO. Still, Desiree Frieson, the Program Manager of the Blackstone LaunchPad at NYU, believes that "one roadblock to women in the startup space is unconscious bias.” To solve this problem, she believes “the tech community needs to show more examples of how women CEOs have been successful solving real problems and disrupting multiple industries with outstanding technologies.”
Estee Goldschmidt is doing just this. Founder and CEO of ShopDrop, a venture in the 2017 SLP, Goldschmidt sees an opportunity in the demographic makeup of her industry, for her app notifies users, most of which are women, of hard-to-find sample sales across New York City. She says, “the thing that makes it difficult being a woman is the same thing that gives opportunity.” Frustrated with the pay of working in a large, male-dominated corporation, Goldschmidt discovered entrepreneurship as an opportunity to level the gender playing field, for it inherently mixes diverse people.
Cadence Daniels, a senior at Tandon studying Integrated Digital Media, has a nuanced take on gender bias in business. She identifies implicit bias when, for example, a woman and her male business partner “walk up to one of their clients and [the client] shakes his hand before they shake hers.” Though it is likely that countless women experience such an exchange on a relatively frequent basis, Daniels advises them to “take it as a challenge.”
She believes this challenge, whether for a woman’s, minority’s, or a member of any other marginalized group, is to demonstrate the power of diverse intellectual perspective, particularly in the process of ideation and innovation. “If you only find yourself in rooms with people that look and think like you, you’re limiting yourself,” she says. “Find a different room.”
From a business perspective, Andy Moss, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at NYU, believes that every company benefits from innovation brought on by diverse thinking, just in order to achieve their bottom line. As technology becomes a more integral part of people’s lives all over the planet, he argues, “to build products and services that people actually want, you have to design them from diverse perspectives. Otherwise, you’re not going to build anything compelling.”
Dr. Preeti Raghavan, an Associate Professor at Langone’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, the Director of Langone’s Division of Motor Recovery Research, founded Mirrored Motion Works, a venture that helps stroke patients regain functionality of paralyzed limbs. As a distinguished doctor and entrepreneur, she believes that “women have to work pretty hard to prove themselves.” In her experience, she has found that “men are not afraid to ask for things, and I think women hesitate because somehow asking for your needs feels not very feminine.” She believes that addressing such deeply woven social complexities is how, when faced with gender biases, we can “take it as a challenge.”
An increasing number of women around the world are facing and meeting that challenge, leading the way for even more women.