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Women in Entrepreneurship and Controversy in Blogging

It’s pretty much common knowledge that there are far fewer women than men running high-tech high-end (meaning visible, getting buzz, getting investment) startups. That’s bad news, right? I thought it was obvious. 

But apparently it’s not obvious. Say, what?

Well, for example, there’s Penelope Trunk’s Women Don’t Want to Run Startups Because They’d Rather Have Children, posted over the weekend on TechCrunch. She wrote:

There’s a reason that women start more businesses than men, but women only get 3% of the funding that men do. The reason is that women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids.

So having a life is a feminine trait? Work-life balance is a business failing of women? I think not, but she says:

For men it’s different. We all know that men do not search all over town finding the perfect ballet teacher. Men are more likely to settle when it comes to raising kids. The kids are fine. Men are more likely than women to think they themselves are doing a good job parenting.

Wow. Do we like stereotypes? At least she’s giving us equal opportunity stereotypes, insulting both genders at once.

I think Penelope Trunk writes stuff like that for the same reason that blowhard talk radio idiots say the dumb stuff they do: it works commercially. Exaggerated opinions on radio generate listeners, and controversial blog posts generate traffic. Penelope Trunk is very smart, very successful, a ground breaker, a great blogger, and she loves controversy.  This is the same woman who posted Get married first, then focus on career as if that were her advice to young women. And Forget the Job Hunt. Just Have a Baby Instead. I like her writing too much to believe she’s serious. Do you think she moves to the absurd to make the opposite point?

What do you think? Do you think gender difference explain why women are under represented in high-tech startups? I don’t.

Read Vivek Wadwha’s thoughtful Men and Women Entrepreneurs: Not That Different on TechCrunch yesterday. You should read it. It’s nice to see common sense backed by research.

Yes, sure there are gender differences. Thank heavens there are. But they don’t justify unequal opportunity. They don’t explain the startups gap.

Vivek, on the other hand, makes two specific suggestions: first, when hiring, interview at least one woman. Second, include one woman on the recruiting team. He concludes:

These are pretty simple remedies. I am not advocating that companies institute any kind of affirmative-action programs or stack the deck against men. But we need to recognize that negative stereotypes such as the ones highlighted in TechCrunch can be harmful and lead to discrimination. Let’s not blame anyone, but let’s act proactively to fix a problem that we all know exists.

I second that.

What do you think?


  • Tim Berry says:

    I’m sorry, it probably seems like I’m contradicting my own post here, but let’s also remember that Penelope Trunk is also a gifted writer, hard worker, and very successful young woman entrepreneur who has made a career out of blogging and particularly the business of blogging. Somebody in twitter suggested that in this post I’m accusing her of sensationalizing, and I can see how you could read that into this. But I’m also perfectly willing to believe that she’s putting up bad opinions, as if they were straw men, because they generate discussion and readership. It’s not like she’s claiming objectivity or proper news values; her work is opinion, not fact. I don’t agree with her on any one of the posts I’ve cited here, but I don’t think she’s the problem, either. And she’s living a life of free choice, ironically a lot more than what this small sample of her blogging suggests. Tim

  • PammyPam says:

    Instead of highlighting why female business owners/mompreneurs aren’t successful, Ms Trunk should spend a DAY in the blogosphere seeing how we mommy bloggers really do it: we encourage each other, we suport each other, we TEACH each other, we share information and knowledge, we have fun, we tease, we build community, foster family, spiritual, and financial values, as well as MANY MORE things. This is how we are SUCCESSFUL.

  • Jan Schwartz says:

    I’m struggling with this discussion and Penelope Trunk ‘s piece in that women are lumped into a category that includes having children and families to tend to. Not all women entrepreneurs have kids (mine are over 30) or families that need tending, and not all of us wanted/needed investors. My company doesn’t have national buzz, but we have buzz in our niche (online education and instructional design). My business partner is male (no kids). Maybe we need to define success.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    No, that helped. 🙂

    I think everyone, including Penelope Trunk, agrees that these disparities in opportunity shouldn’t exist. I also don’t think that Penelope is saying that it’s only a gender difference, it’s a reality-based one. As Carol Daly said above, women often put themselves in a position that is family-focused and they take on those roles more frequently than men do. Taken at face value as a statement of facts that shouldn’t be offensive.

    However Penelope does cross a line with her apologia exonerating the system for being so fatally flawed. It’s inexcusable that gender would enter into funding decisions. And her characterization of men borders on misandry.

    It sounds like we agree she’s off base, and generally in the same places.

  • Carol Daly says:

    Well, stereotypical or not, she has a good point. I’ve watched it for years, and had similar thoughts about why so many of us women just don’t succeed in business when we’re often more creative, have better communication skills, and are in a better position to succeed now than in any other time in history. Fact: We women do tend to hold ourselves back sometimes — read that — SOMETIMES. No one statement applies to all women in business.

    As an example, there are more women entrepreneurs than men, but how many of those businesses are “Mommy” based? There are so many adjectives to describe these enterprises: Work At Home Moms (WAHM), Mompreneurs, Woman-Owned . . . it goes on and on. Have you ever heard a man describe himself or his network of contacts as “Dadpreneurs,” “Man-Owned,” or “Work At Home Dads” ….. very, very rarely.

    Women entrepreneurs are frequently very serious about their businesses, but they put themselves in the position of not being taken seriously because of those indications that what they are doing is “cute” and baby-related. Instead of networking at the local Chamber of Commerce, joining professional business or trade organizations, volunteering at relevant community events where they’ll become known and gain visibility as serious business people, they go home at night to care for families; or often choose to hang out with other Mommies and push their products or services to them.

    How many Dads build their businesses that way? Virtually none. They know they need serious contacts, need to be at the right place at the right time (and will skip dinner and kids time in order to do it), and will frequently work long into the night to make things happen. I’m aware some women do that too, but not in the numbers that men do.

    We can hate it if we want, but it’s a fact …… the child “nurturing” is 80% – 90% Mom in most families I’ve known. And yes ….. I’m a Mom to 4 grown kids. I ran a business for most of their childhoods, but never got where I wanted to be …. in the end my kids’ welfare won out every single time. No regrets on my part ….. but a full understanding that we do indeed reap what we sow, professionally as well as personally.

  • Daria Steigman says:

    Besides just being exasperated and annoyed (seriously, since when did birthing babies disqualify women? and since when did all men compromise on families and skew work-life balance?), when I saw Penelope Trunk’s piece it was yet another reminder that we have a long way to go to break down a lot of gender stereotypes.

    Coincidentally, I was just reading this post ( about diversity in the MLB. I think we need a “Rooney rule” (okay, mixed metaphor since I know that’s football-based) for bankers, VCs, and other investors to invite more women into the room and to get these folks to take women entrepreneurs seriously. It would at least be a start.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I’m struggling to form a cogent response because I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. I know you’re upset with Penelope’s piece and disagree with her position. What’s yours? What do you propose as an alternative world view?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Charles, ouch! I don’t like having you not sure what I was trying to say, but I learned the hard way, if I write it and the reader doesn’t understand, it’s my fault, not yours. I’m sure I don’t know how to solve this problem, and I’m sure I do think we need to acknowledge it as a problem. I’m sure I don’t like dismissing it on “women are like that” grounds, as if this is perfectly fine. I love gender differences, the spice of life, but I don’t believe there are gender differences that in any way justify differnces in business opportunities. And I’m sure I want all people, including all female people, to have free and fair choice with what they do. And that both men and women can choose home and children if they and they want to, without anybody thinking that’s an inferior or somehow invalid choice. And that both men and women can choose career if they want to, or both family and career if they want to, without anybody thinking that’s an inferior or invalid choice.

      All of which probably makes what I’m trying to say even cloudier, but I respect your comment, and also that it comes as one comment among many that you’ve made on this blog. I appreciate your thoughtful comments even when it’s about not understanding what I’m trying to say. That will always make me want to say it better. Tim

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