As we saw at our Impact in Angel Investor Decisions event recently, it seems as if every angel investing event I attend invokes a conversation about the need to support female entrepreneurs. In the past week, four people have asked me what they can do to help women entrepreneurs and angel investors. While these offers for support are certainly well-intentioned, I’m starting to wonder whether I should be insulted by this overwhelming urge to provide extra support to women through gender lens investing.
Of the 10 investments made by the Impact Angel Group last year, four of them are led by female CEOs (Erika Trautman, Karen Bradley, Willow King, Sherisse Hawkins) and one was co-founded by a woman (Kati Bicknell).
Of the seven companies in due diligence with the Impact Angel Group, three are led by women.
And if I were to make a list of the most productive members of our Boulder startup community whom I most admire, Sheila Lamont, Nicole Glaros, Sarah Schupp, Kelly Burton, Joni Kripal, Sue Heilbronner, Colleen Kazemi, Nicole Gravagna, Sara Rodríguez López and Claudia Batten would be at the top of my list.
I did not invest in, nor do I admire these women because I apply a gender lens to my work. Rather, I like to invest in exceptional entrepreneurs and work with exceptional people, and these women are EXCEPTIONAL. Additionally, I would venture to guess that these women would be horrified if an investment in them was viewed as a charitable rather than a financial decision. I know I would be.
As Sharon Vosmek from Astia, an organization that supports female entrepreneurs, always reminds me, women-led startups are statistically more likely to succeed. People should invest in women not because they want to level the playing field, but because they want to increase their likelihood for angel investment success.
So…..should women be insulted by gender lens investing? If the investor’s intention is to increase their odds for a return, then obviously not, but if the investor is trying to charitably help women because they think women can’t compete, then perhaps we should be.
If you are wondering how to help women entrepreneurs and angel investors, here is my advice:
- Invest in and surround yourself with exceptional people. If you diligently seek exceptional people to invest in and work with, I guarantee many of them will be women.
- Consider the generational and cultural differences. Thanks to the hard work of the generations before me, I, as someone born in the Midwestern United States in 1981, the first year of the Millennial Generation, grew up thinking that I could do everything my brother could do and for the most part, experienced equal opportunity. For those of us who have enjoyed equal opportunity, extra support may be counterproductive.
- Invest in women because it is an opportunity rather than an obligation. As I mentioned, companies with female executives are statistically more likely to succeed. Additionally, although I have enjoyed equal treatment, it has been much harder for women of previous generations and different cultures to rise to the top. Those women have overcome adversity and may be stronger and brighter than those who haven’t.
- Women, get out there! If you are an exceptional female entrepreneur or angel investor, make yourself known and lead by example. Speak on all-male panels, blog about your experience and always remember that right or wrong, your behavior will either perpetuate or break the female stereotype. You are an ambassador for women everywhere.
While I certainly meet fewer female entrepreneurs and angel investors, I can say that the number of exceptional entrepreneurs and angel investors I meet is more or less 50/50. Perhaps this is because most women are from pre-Millennial generations and are stronger for having to overcome gender adversity, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Regardless, I can emphatically say that investing in and working with women is opportunity, not philanthropy.
What do you think?