As I’ve brought up in the past, I enjoy listening to podcasts and books while I’m exercising. The last two days, I was taking in the final Fall lecture from the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar, which featured Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of Astia. Astia is focused on developing and supporting women entrepreneurs in high-growth, high-potential industries. They are comprised of advisors that are half men and half women, with over 4000 members, and use a proprietary process to connect entrepreneurs with appropriate advisors and investors. Additionally, the organization provides an opportunity for angel investors to be exposed to and invest in women-led companies.
I was pretty excited to learn about Astia, and the support and resource that exists (which I hadn’t been aware of before). They accept member companies on a rolling basis, and while the criteria require a focus on a high-growth sector, it is fine to apply at any stage of the business.
There were a few things Sharon brought up in her talk that caught my attention. Her organization is focused on “what entrepreneurs need . . . they need access to networks, they need access to opportunity.” The problem that occurs “is that in our society, men and women are still in separate business networks.” I know I have felt this at times – you are at a networking function that is mostly men, and rather than talk to you seriously about business, it seems like the guy you just met is more interested in hitting on you. Or, you know that the real business discussion and conversations occur outside of the office, but if you are a woman and a man alone having dinner or a drink, it is assumed there must be something more going on. I think admitting that this is a problem, and then making an effort to get around it by bringing men and women together in business, as Astia does, is important.
Sharon also addressed an audience question about the existence of women-only programs, and if she thought they were good. Not surprisingly, she said she is tired of them, tired of being told she needs a mentor, and that there has to be something different for women. Having women get together with other women is “far more comfortable for women to get together and feel all womanly and we like each other and that’s good, but that’s the same problem that boys have when they all get together and they feel good. I just think that it’s time for us to get uncomfortable.” I also could identify with this – I was the leader of a women’s networking group in my earlier corporate job, and at times I struggled with how our organization was helping women to be taken more seriously professionally, and how we were helping our members develop. A challenge with having men and women “get uncomfortable” in dealing with this is that many men either are interested or don’t think there is a problem – when Sharon asked the group to raise their hand if they still would have come to the lecture if it wasn’t mandatory and was titled “Women in Technology”, all the women in the room but just one guy raised their hand. Sigh.
Oh – but on a positive note – as I was reading through their webpage to learn more about the organization, I was surprised to learn that one of my freshman roommates from MIT, Katie Szczepaniak Rice, is on the Investor Advisory Board! Awesome – once again my friends amaze me!
Listen to the podcast here.