Among thousands of people, marketing activations, BBQs and cocktail hours, SXSW 2015 helped promote key discussions on the future of work dynamics and the issue of gender in entrepreneurship. These topics were the subject of thought-provoking conversations throughout sessions and keynotes, one of which – UpGlobal’s panel on Women in Entrepreneurship at Old School on 6th Street – I had the honor of being a part of.
Joined by my fellow panelists Anjali Kundra (VP and co-founder of Partender), Amy Millman (President, Springboard Enterprises), Kate Shillo (Director, Galvanize Ventures), and moderated by Lisa Brooks (Turnstone), our group had a dynamic discussion in front of an audience of male and female entrepreneurs alike about how to scale a venture while taking gender into consideration. The group was composed of investors, an entrepreneur and marketers. A few key themes emerged:
From keynotes by Jack Welch and Gary Vaynerchuk to our Startup Oasis panel, the questions of who serves as professional mentors and why continued to come up. For Jack Welch, he finds mentors from every part of his business life. He mentioned Jeff Bezos, Gary Vaynerchuk and others as people to whom he looks for advice. RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, counts Jim Jaramusch and Quentin Tarantino as mentors who taught him about becoming a filmmaker. For many of the women on our UpGlobal panel ¬– including myself – mentors of both genders were found through previous job experiences. Though our backgrounds and mentors differed, one thing on which we all agreed was that it’s the responsibility of the mentee to make mentorship happen. If we want to learn from someone, it’s up to us to ask for advice and forge the relationship.
Is HR The Answer To Address Gender Imbalance At Startups?
HR was a hot-button issue that came up in many sessions and conversations. It was clear that enacting company policies and taking over the duty to ensure a workplace that’s equal for both men and women falls upon an HR person. But when and how this hire is made is subject to broadly differing views. For some, HR should be one of the first hires at a startup, while others think HR is an expensive, non-revenue driving investment. This is particularly true for companies at a critical stage where every contributor makes or breaks the growth trajectory of a company. It’s unclear if there’s a “right” answer to this conundrum, as I’ve seen companies try both ways with success. What is clear is that there is no foolproof way to solve for gender imbalance.
Advice For Female Startup Entrepreneurs
During our panel, Lisa asked each of us the one piece of advice we’d give to other female entrepreneurs. We all noted that conviction and confidence are imperative when we’re presenting our ideas and trying to sell a vision to investors, clients or internal staff. Whether male or female, conviction and confidence are ways to keep ahead in the ultra-competitive startup environment in which we work.
Lastly, kudos to UpGlobal for hosting a rich conversation and event at the Startup Oasis; it helped to bring together entrepreneurs from around the world to have an important discussion on the future of gender in the workplace. Now it will be interesting to see if progress happens, or if we’ll still be having the same conversation on this topic at SXSW 2016.