I recently had a thought about technical co-founders. 

Silicon Valley fetishizes them. Some funds require that you have one in order to get funding. And many—many—VCs say that the reason that they don’t fund more women is because so few women are “technical.” “The pipeline,” you know

Indeed, many of the prominent female founders who’ve done well tend to be focused on beauty or e-commerce. “What we need is a female Mark Zuckerberg!” I once heard a well-meaning male VC declare, as if he were describing a mythical beast far rarer in these parts than a unicorn. 

So I’ve always thought it must be phenomenal to be a technical female founder. It’s one reason I’ve always been in awe of my friends Sara and Anne who started Winnie. Two female technical co-founders!!! WOW!

I imagined people must just throw money at female technical founders because they manage to fit the pattern of what an entrepreneur has to be, while, at the same time, they check the box of investing in women! Double win! 

And then I spent a few years talking to women who are technical co-founders. What I’m about to say is hard to prove, because the numbers generally for women getting funded are so abysmal, and VCs are horrible at actually telling you why they are turning you down. 

But after hearing a supremely gender-based dismissal of a female technical co-founder from the mouth of an investor recently, I started to wonder if actually female technical co-founders might have it worse? 

Consider someone like me, who has had a pretty decent time raising money for a woman, at least at early stages. I am most definitely not technical. But I am good at writing, brand, and media, and I am well-known. I am a media entity. And being media entities are something we are used to women being good at. Arianna Huffington. Tina Brown. Kara Swisher. No one is threatened by that, and investors can see the value in utilizing it for their benefit.

You could see the same with e-commerce or beauty. “Oh yeah! Women shop a lot! And you are a woman! You must get that!”

But female technical co-founders represent something very different. They’re usurping male territory. Territory that may have even belonged to the investor she’s pitching in his younger years. And so accepting that she can actually do that job is a lot harder than if she had another skill set, was still raising money, was still even going to be the CEO, but had someone else doing the actual coding. 

I don’t think a lot of this is conscious. But I think it’s a lens of unconscious bias I haven’t heard people talking about.

Is she really a leader?

Is she really “technical enough”?

Would other (presumably male) developers want to work for her? 

When someone dismisses female technical co-founders using vague terms without having looked at any of their actual code or speaking with anyone who has worked for them, it’s typically a sign bias may be at work. 

There’s a reason that in the wake of The Social Network young white men who’d dropped out of Ivy League schools started dressing in hoodies and flip-flops and going out to raise capital. There’s also a reason many got funded.

Always always check what might be behind that “sense” or “gut feeling.” We are all guilty of this at some point or another.

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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