In Response to Penelope Trunk's Why Startup's Shouldn't Hire Women

Desiree Wrigley

A few months ago, a Good Angel blog post had women (and men) up in arms when Paige Craig admitted that he had reservations about investing in a company co-founded by a then pregnant Jessica Jackley.  Her response echoed the outcry of women across the world, questioning why a woman can't add Mother to her existing titles of Co-Founder and CEO.


Today, those women's voices rose again in response to Penelope Trunk's BNET article provocatively titled Male Founders: Want to Kill Your Startup's Chances? Hire a Woman, which has in the last few hours already been retitled to the less controversial, Are Startups Better as Single-Gendered Affairs?

But, the subject matter still remains.  Penelope argues that women can't cut it in the start-up world because we're a sexual distraction, start-ups need focus and women bring too much diversity, and...we cry at work.  Instead, she suggests in another blog post that men should start companies in sweatshops filled with other 20-something men and women should spend their late 20's looking for mates and having children. 


As a 5 month pregnant CEO and Co-Founder of a funded start-up, I blew off her comments as inflammatory press intended simply to make me visit BNET.  But after reading a few of Penelope's other blogs, including yesterday's discussion on her marriage and inability to find work, I realized that what Penelope has really done is simply put pen to paper for that little voice in the back of our mind (aka the Lizard Brain) that keeps us all from achieving our goals and our true purpose.


It's that voice of fear that makes us question whether we can, in fact, be good mothers and good CEO's, whether we can find time to meet the man of our dreams and still come up with killer ideas for growth,  whether we can work 75 hours a week and still find time to be a maid of honor to our best friend from elementary school.   What separates successful entrepreneurs from everyone else is that we hear those cries and we meet them head on, proving to ourselves and to others that we have what it takes to move forward.


Of course we doubt ourselves.  Guys do, too.  How many serial male entrepreneurs say it was easy being there for their wives and children when they were plugging away at their third start-up, double mortgaging their homes, praying that they would have the cash to cover the next payroll?


The reality is that the journey of an entrepreneur is hard, it's time consuming, it's stressful, and it's the most incredible experience of one's life. It is the act of creating something out of nothing that provides value.  Why would anyone deny women that opportunity?  And why, Penelope, would you feed that little voice in people's heads when it's already so powerful?

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Leslee Cohen

As a corporate and securities lawyer with two little boys who spent 13 years at a large law firm then, last year started my own firm, I agree with the responses here but was particularly enthralled by Maria's--the initial response below.  Each to her own!  In addition, women should be supportive of each other rather than falling into the trap of being divisive amongst ourselves, and we will all be a lot more successful.  Having worked "part-time" very successfully in the past, I can advise you that if you are willing to be available whenever needed, even though you are in the office only some of the time, you will go far.  Clients, bosses, etc. just don't want to hear when you are not available.  If you tell them instead when you ARE available and work with them to make that mutually convenient, you will be equally valuable as any male employee/entrepreneur, etc. 

Kelly Fitzsimmons
Penelope and I met years back through mutual friends.  I remember relating the story of how we had raised our initial seed funding while I was 9 months pregnant and what a difference 10 years had made.  In my 20s, my father was informed by two ibankers, which I had hired to fundraise for an earlier company, that they couldn't raise money for a woman CEO of "child-bearing years". So Penelope's comments made me not simply wince, but think -- she knows better.   Penelope has raised venture capital herself with young children in toe.  And through this lens, I find her comments as baffling as they are bewildering.
Tammi Franke
I really disagree with Penelope's blanket categorizations, including the statement "women do things -- everything -- differently than men do".  This is just not true.  Everyone is unique. If you're a founder and you think your startup must be homogeneous (either male or female), you're cutting yourself off from considering a lot of qualified people for your team - a very risky thing indeed.  An individual's personality is what is important in how people work together - not gender.
Meagan Lopez
Sounds like we were thinking similar things about similar topics. Great post - so sad when women feel the need to put other women down.
Lesley Tweedie

I'm enjoying reading the comments here from all of you smart entrepreneurs.  I'm certainly not going to try to start or put out any fires but someone sent me a link today to a post by Catherine Ann on Huffpost Women that relates to this topic. Here's another opinion on work / life balance.

Sue Kim
I think Penelope points out a deeply important fact that women and men and different.  However to make blanket public assertions about the implications of that research for early stage startups may be premature.  The truth, is the jury is still out.  We have Penelope saying a homogeneous culture is best in the beginning.  Then we have Cheryl Sandberg who crashed Mark Zuckerberg's homogeneous young male culture (Facebook) and almost single handedly made it profitable.  This business of startups is still pretty new to our economy.  As a whole we don't have the experience upon which to base incendiary future-forming comments.  Do we want to carry on the old school legacy of extreme conditions a la Welch, or do we want to create sane places where parity benefits all?  I think there is enough research that supports either -- it's up to us to choose which we want to promote.
Tammi Franke
Thanks Desiree - I agree with you and the other comments below.  I can't believe it's 2011 and this is still going on.  I'm also disappointed that her fringe statements are given such broad distribution (200 newspapers, TechCunch and a keynote plus a panel discussion at Tech Week). And she's supposedly giving career advice?  Anyone who has worked at a start up knows that it is one of the most valuable career experiences that you will ever have - successful or not.  Every person, woman or man, should categorically avoid advice from someone who tells you not to follow your heart or your passion or who tells you that you cannot do something because of your gender/race/sexual preference.  It's just wrong.
Penelope Trunk

Hi, Desiree. I would never say that women aren't good at building startups. I am on my fourth one, and I love doing it, and I love working with women. So I feel exactly the opposite.

To be honest, every time I have raised money, I have never even had to address the question, Are women good at startups? becasue it's such a stupid question. Of course women can do startups well. But also, of course women do things -- everything -- differently than men do.

That's my point.  That women and men are different, and diversity at a startup during the very fragile time between seed funding and the A round is bad for a startup. On balance. On balance the risks diversity brings outweigh the benefits. And, by the way, in the post I cited a book full of research about this topic of the risks and benefits of diversity -- The Medici Effect.


Julie Northcutt
Yes, this is just sensational writing to get attention.  I remember hearing Jack Welch speak and someone asked about how he balanced his family life with his career success and he honestly answered, saying:  "I didn't - I am on my third marriage and you would have to ask my first wife what my kids did."  The balancing act is as difficult for men as it is for women.  Penelope also admitted in her speech at TechWeek that she never really made any money on her start-ups - it is just how you spin it.  So as the saying goes, only take advice from those who have successful experience, launched companies, sold them and made money doing it.  Unfortunately the media loves the sensational spin which is why an ex-governor from Alaska who doesn't have a successful political track record also gets lots of attention.
Stella Fayman
penelope basically did this talk at tech week and i was shocked. first of all, once you see her in real life, you realize she is scatterbrained, disorganized, and just not all there. you kind of don't take her seriously because she acts like a kid. I'm not surprised she was not able to handle startup life because of her personality...and it's shameful that she's making blanket statements about her gender instead of doing some introspection and realizing that's not the issue.
Maria Christopoulos Katris
Desiree--thank you.  I could not agree more as a working mom raising two young children. I do not think you have to sacrifice one for the other--it is hard, no doubt about it-but for me the choice was simple--I am a better mom working, than being at home.  I did the stay-at-home mom for 2 years and I did the PT and frankly, given my personality, I have found strength in working...a lot.  And I look forward to inspiring my two young daughters to do the same.  Bottom line what makes you happy and your kids, and home, will be happy. Oh, and don't judge or categorize---to each their own.

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