Want to know what it takes for women in start-ups? We thought we'd ask one of our very own! Check out our founder Ashley Baxter's take on her experiences, insights and advice.
When I entered the fast-paced start-up space, I was driven by the excitement to leave my mark on the world. What I was greeted by though was a lot of "Mark Zuckerberg wannabes".
Being a female in any male-dominated field can be exhausting but surely start-ups would be different, I thought. They are, after all, the one source of all progress and innovation and open-mindedness in society (cue sarcasm). What I actually encountered showed that just like many similarly gender imbalanced industries, the start-up world has a long way to go.
My first real exposure to it was through The University of Queensland's ilab Accelerator, where the gender ratio was 3 women to over 10 men and not much has changed since. It's less common that women are overtly or directly discriminated against anymore but more subtle, passive tactics are still prevalent and make a massive impact on women trying to make it in start-ups.
For example, whenever I would achieve a new milestone, it would be acknowledged as a great accomplishment for a "female founder". No one seemed to realised how demeaning it was to categorise my achievements based on my gender, even when it came from a place of encouragement. It created a sense of isolation from my male peers as well where they no longer began to see me as a fellow founder but rather in this separate, untouchable category.
Another challenge is best described as was when a male colleague seriously asked me if I believed I was there to fill a gender quota. Whilst it was not maliciously intended, as he was a friend and could see I was doing well, it did expose an unsettling mindset. He, and others like him, may have accepted my success because he know how hard I worked for it but when he looks at other women in start-ups does he see them as just a quote being filled?
I also find I am constantly having to change the initial perception in people's minds of me, a young, naïve, inexperienced girl, compared to when a man with my exact background and age walks into a room and is seen as an ambitious, hungry risk-taker. This stereotype based on nothing more than superficial factors that I have almost no control over makes it incredibly challenging to be taken seriously, even in the supposedly open-minded start-up space.
This space has attempted to paint itself as the epitome of forward thinking but from my experiences, it can be just as prejudiced and close-minded as any other industry towards people who don't fit the mould.
My advice to women who want to enter the start-up space isn't very groundbreaking - just ignore it. You will inevitably encounter prejudices and stereotyping that can be harmful and disheartening and all you can do is strive to rise above it. To achieve your potential and your success will be the ultimate validation.
This is the second instalment of our series on women in start-ups. You can check out the first one here or to contribute to the conversation this women's history month make sure you've subscribed to our mailing list and are following our socials so you don't miss future instalments!