#Asia Is the term ‘woman entrepreneur’ sexist?

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Four female leaders in the startup ecosystem talk family and sexism, and offer advice for women in business in this Echelon Thailand panel

Women entrepreneurs

When four women, all holding positions of leadership in their respective companies, took the stage at Echelon Thailand today to tell stories about how they found success, the direction of the conversation became clear when Moderator Araya Noon Hutasuwan, Vice President of Ardent Capital, posits an idea.

If Echelon had a panel titled, “Startup Life, Spotlight on Successful Male Entrepreneurs: How They Got There,” cries of sexism would be both loud and justified.

Which immediately begs the question, is the term  ‘women entrepreneur’ inherently sexist?

It’s usually about diversity, not sexism

“I think it goes to the ‘women power, women power’ thing (sic). It kind of pisses guys off in a way. We were saying [off stage], is it is really important to have a man on stage to push the agenda,” says Shannon Kalayanamitr, Founder of MOXY.

That lone man on-stage, Arnaud Boznom, Director of Special Projects at 500 Startups, appeared to see Kalayanamitr’s point speaks highly of him. Bonzom stressed the importance of diversity and not singling out the ‘woman entrepreneur’.

“For me, it is about diversity. It is not just about gender, but age etc. as well. [It’s good to have] different backgrounds and different experiences,” he says.

But while the panel was generally sympathetic to Boznom’s idea, Linh Thai, Founder and CEO of Stitch Appeal, did not necessarily agree.

“We actually have an all-woman staff. And I actually really like it. It’s like a sisterhood in the office. It’s fun, and I kind of feel like adding a male to the mix would change the dynamic,” she says.

Networking minefields

But in the startup world, networking is crucial. Drawing on a fairly accurate stereotype, Hutasuwan asked if these entrepreneurs experienced uncomfortable moments, or felt left out of an ‘old boys network’.

“I’m like the networking queen. I am very personable. But, before, when there were not many women in the tech conferences, there would be some misinterpretation. If we are talking and enjoying the conversation, it could get too close. And I’m like ‘Whoa! Hold up’. There is a bit where it could be misinterpreted,” says Kalayanamitr.

Juliette Gimenez, Co-founder of Goxip, explains that she has a bit of a life-hack to solve that problem. One that is less conscious and more about her personality.

“I haven’t encountered [Kalyanamitr’s experience] so much, but I think the reason is I just walk in and talk. I don’t really care what other people think about me, and I like to think when a man or woman are [talking] they are open-minded,” she says.

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Families, husbands and babies

What was particularly interesting about the panel was that the women all came from different places on the relationship spectrum. They were able to draw from personal experience and talk about the role of family and entrepreneurship from the perspective of marriage, single life, motherhood and pregnancy.

Out of their experience, the key takeaway is — as motherhood becomes a reality, time management becomes crucial.

Kalyanamitr says she allots an hour every morning to spend with her kids before work. She jokes that she then focusses on work during the day “to the point where I don’t pee,” before trying to make it home by 730 PM to spend an hour with her children before bed.

Pacharee Pantoomano-Pfirsch, Chairwoman of Bangkok Now, may have the best system. She calls it the ‘three-storey life’ and says all of the important locations for her, office, kids, school etc. are all within three floors of one another in the same building.

And when the audience asked for the women’s opinions about a husband-wife co-founding team? Pantoomano-Pfirsch puts it nicely,

“I like going home to have this sounding board in my husband. He is totally removed [from the company] and can offer me a different perspective. I would not want to mess this up.”

Thai says her individual relationship makes this scenario impossible while Gimenez wonders if spending 24/7 with your co-founder would actually hurt the company’s creativity.

“If I can’t take my mind off something then my brain is dead. And if my brain is dead then my company is dead,” she says.

Family plays an important role for the married women on the panel — they just stress the importance of time management.

Also Read: 3 big questions that Echelon Indonesia will answer

Advice for women entrepreneurs

Maybe the term is sexist. If so, hopefully, it leaves the lexicon soon.

But, the women on stage all cite examples of experiences that the average male would be unlikely to face. So, if they are on stage, why not offer some advice?

“The one thing you can’t plan for is a family. Continue with your life because it could take longer [than you think]. When I started my company, I thought I would have a family soon [after]. Two years later, I am pregnant. [The pregnancy] is coming during a [company] growth period. But that is what it is. If I had stopped everything, I would have lost two years,” says Thai.

Kalanamitr says,

“Do not use the ‘female thing’ as an excuse. In a previous job my failure was not to be assertive enough. I did not do my homework, see what the boss needs. Do your homewok, find out what the market needs. But, do it professionally.”

And what about the men?

“[They should] go out with more women entrepreneurs. Because we are are different, and very fun,” says Gimenez, ending the panel on a light note.

Disclaimer: MOXY is an Ardent Capital portfolio company. Ardent Capital is an investor in Optimatic Pte Ltd, the parent company of e27.

Attend Echelon Thailand 2015, taking place on November 26 and 27, from 8.30 AM to 5.30 PM with an exclusive after-party that runs till late. Tickets are available for purchase online, use promo code e27Subscriber to enjoy awesome savings. 

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