Leslie Feinzaig’s, CEO & Founder of the Female Founders Alliance, keynote speech at Daring Women.
Ten years ago, when I was just out of business school, I was a strategy consultant at a top tier firm. I was working on a project for the company’s biggest client, when the partners hired and assigned a new manager to our team.
I could tell immediately that the manager disliked me.
Behind closed doors, I’d get yelled at, told that I was worse than a secretary and just as dumb. I would end up in tears almost daily. When the project ended my performance review was full of lies. And even though my colleague Tim stood up for me and set the record straight, the damage was done. I got demoted.
This manager, this bully who almost broke me, it wasn’t a man. She was a woman.
Strategy consulting, like law, finance, tech and many other fields, is very competitive, male dominated, and full of ambitious people. It is a field where it’s lonely to be a woman not just because there’s so few of us, but because we were all in direct competition with one other.
It’s almost like our grandmothers’ generation opened the door to equal opportunity. And our mothers’ generation got the first seat at the table.
But our generation has grown up seeing that one seat at the table. And in the most cutthroat environments that attract the most ambitious people, too many women see that one seat and think, it has to be mine.
Fast forward a few years to 2016. It was a few months after I started my company, Venture Kits, when I hit the first really rough patch. For the first time, I felt like giving up.
Once again, I found myself in a field where the odds were stacked against me, more than ever before. Because only 2% of venture capital is invested in female founded startups.
Now keep in mind that this is an investment gap, not a pay gap. It’s caused by the investment decisions of private investors. And unfortunately, you can’t force anyone to invest in a company they don’t want to.
Investors follow patterns. And up until now, the pattern they are following looks a lot like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. And varying degrees of baldness in between.
If we want to really change the gender gap in venture capital, we need a new pattern. One that looks like you, and me, and my daughter. And to create that pattern, we need to show success. We need women to raise venture capital, grow big companies, and have HUGE exits like all of those men have. And not just one of us. We need LOTS of us to do that. We need ALL of us.
Investors follow patterns. And what that means is that the more YOU succeed, the more venture capital dollars unlock for me. It means that for us to succeed, we have to succeed together.
"Investors follow patterns. And what that means is that the more YOU succeed, the more venture capital dollars unlock for me. It means that for us to succeed, we have to succeed together."
That day last year when I almost quit my company, I went online instead. I created a Facebook group and added all the other female founders and CEOs of high growth startups that I knew. It was the group I that I needed, of women who understood what I was going through. And out of that group, the Female Founders Alliance was born. Today, we are a network of more than 200 women founders and leaders of highly scalable startups dedicated to helping each other succeed. Together, we want to create the pattern of success that investors will follow.
We do that by providing access and amplification to our members. We help them get deals that move their business forward. And we encourage our members to do the same for each other. To share their investor introductions. To pass on their speaking opportunities. To actively help each other be more successful.
"Because if our grandmothers’ generation opened the door to opportunity. And our mothers’ generation grabbed the first seat at the table. It is our generation’s job is to fill up the whole damn room. And we can only do it together."
It was FFA members who chose the title of this talk. Because FFA members dare to succeed together. We break the paradigm that success is a zero-sum game. That there’s only room for one of us.
We are ambitious without being competitive. Without being ruthless.
Because if our grandmothers’ generation opened the door to opportunity.
And our mothers’ generation grabbed the first seat at the table.
It is our generation’s job is to fill up the whole damn room.
And we can only do it together.
-Leslie Feinzaig, CEO & Founder of The Female Founders Alliance