Australian CEO and founder of the StartUp Foundation, Daniel Mumby, who calls himself “That Start Up Guy”, has some advice for the “ladies”.
The reason we’re not as successful as men in business is because we are full of excuses.
In a LinkedIn article titled Ladies, get off your ‘buts’ and build your business – no one will do it for you, Mumby explained that if women aren’t living the life they want, they only have themselves to blame.
Women entrepreneurs, in Mumby’s view, are full of “buts”: “But I have a family to look after”, “But I have a house to clean”, “But I don’t have the money”, “But my husband wont let me”.
And just to make sure we could wrap our ladybrains around his ingenious play on the word “but”, Mumby included eight highly sexualised images of women’s bottoms in various shapes and sizes.
Not surprisingly, Mumby was subsequently schooled by hundreds of women and men on how not to be a butthead.
Head of security services at Telstra Jacqui McNamara reported the article to LinkedIn, saying that misogyny such as this has no place on professional sites.
“I’m kind of horrified today to find in my newsfeed an article mansplaining about how women need to get off their butts (complete with graphics of various shaped women’s rear ends – no I’m not kidding and I do mean today, in 2017). Successive complaints of disgust and shock were met by the author with encouragement to lighten up,” McNamara wrote on LinkedIn.
Mumby eventually removed the offensive picture but stood by his chauvinistic article.
He simply couldn’t understand why he was being “bullied” (yes, he actually used that term and then threatened legal action) when he was only trying to help all the clueless ladies with a chronic case of excusitis.
And herein lies the problem with start-ups in Australia and elsewhere: Bro culture.
Bro culture is a set of values that help to maintain male dominance and is actively hostile to women. It’s when a man offering business advice to women claims that there are no structural barriers to women’s success, and then appears to be completely unaware that he is illustrating one of the structural barriers by posting a picture that strips women of their dignity and professionalism by reducing them to sexualised body parts.
Start-up bro culture is ultra-individualistic; grounded in the belief that success is a simple matter of hard work and persistence. It refuses to recognise that men’s careers – whether at start-ups or established companies – are often enabled by having a woman doing the unpaid domestic labour or childcare.
Women entrepreneurs often don’t have another woman around to do this work for free. And I’m sorry to be the one to break it the Start Up Guy, but there isn’t an app that will look after your kids or clear the dishes.
But, as Mumby illustrates, in Start-up Land women spending time on the responsibilities of life is considered a “choice” and a personal failing.
Mumby feels qualified to make this judgment because he spent time as a stay-at-home dad. But as recent ABS data show us, this proves precisely nothing. On average, stay-at-home fathers spend fewer hours caring for their children and doing domestic work than their female partners who work full time.
When women stay home they spend all day (and good slab of their nights) running the household and caring for kids. Men who stay home, meanwhile, have extra time to build their businesses.
There’s also the not-so-small matter of how failure is culturally interpreted. As Alexandra Wolfe writes in her account of the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages talented school leavers to pursue their start-up dreams instead of going to university, Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story, failure is a rite of passage for young entrepreneurs.
“In a place where the rates of colossal failure and exponential success are so extreme they cancel out each other, the flat line between them represents the slope of the barrier to entry”, writes Wolfe.
I suspect what’s missing at the end of this sentence is “barrier to entry to men”. For women, failure is looked on less kindly. When women fail, they aren’t heroes, they’re just failures. It’s not just a reflection of their business acumen, but their whole being – and another black mark against their gender. And when women are the primary carers in our culture, they often don’t have the time or the money to keep failing and trying again.
Women also face barriers to securing venture capital for their start-ups that have nothing to do with a lack of drive. Most venture capitalists are men whose networks consist of old-boys’ clubs that women can’t easily access.
And even when they do, women entrepreneurs are often subject to demands that men are unlikely to encounter. Numerous women in Silicon Valley have reported facing unwanted sexual advances from venture capitalists while discussing their tech businesses.
Even one of the training grounds for tech start-ups – hackathons – are unwelcoming to women.
Writing in the magazine Model View Culture, Gloria Lin shows how the organisation and spaces of hackathons work to marginalise women. They are often dominated by men, from the participants to organisers and mentors. The multi-day and night events are held in big open stadiums that have inadequate facilities for women to bathe, and women are expected to sleep in the stands, surrounded by men.
As Lin writes, “hackathons often platform and reward apps with sexist and misogynist themes; for example, at LA Hacks 2014, Wingman, an initial finalist, made headlines as a winning app that analysed photos of females to determine their promiscuity and whether they’d altered an image to look more attractive.”
If blokes like Mumby are really serious about helping women succeed in starting their own businesses, they should spend less time blaming women, and more time looking at themselves and the bro culture that they are perpetuating.
Kasey Edwards is a management consultant and the author of Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind. www.kaseyedwards.com