Women in tech push back on idea of hiding gender for funding

Women in tech push back on idea of hiding gender for funding (Photo: Heidi Hatch / KUTV)

(KUTV) Women in tech are not the norm -- young guys in hoodies are.

Even if they're not, that's certainly the widespread image. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed isn't helping matters, by suggesting women launching tech startups should hide their gender until they have the cash they need in hand.

“I think it is kind of offensive,” Tracy Gorham, CEO of Utah’s Conex Ed said. She isn’t thrilled with the suggestion and she’s not alone. Amy Rees Anderson, a successful entrepreneur and now angel investor, refuses to hide who she is and encourages others to own their identity.

The Wall Street Journal got some serious blow back with the idea, though some would say the argument does have some merit.

“We've got a long battle,” according to Gorham, who’s now working on her third tech startup in Salt Lake City. Women in tech face serious scrutiny in a newly-emerging market, that still feels a lot like a boys club.

This year, the highest profile women in tech stumbled, hurting the image women in tech are working to build. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, saw her company sold off. Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, was banned from her own labs. While these women are still hugely successful, their public missteps feed stereotypes that women tech are not cut out for the business.

Stereotypes are tough to get past. Gorham says she deals with it “all the time” and just “had an experience this week.” She hit a brick wall with an investor who didn’t want to invest in a woman.

“He said, 'Tracy why don't you just take a step back. You are really good at sales, let someone else run it and worry about the issues.' ”

She didn’t like what she heard and thought, “Yeah, I'm good at sales. But I'm also good at identifying the market, how to price it and getting in front of the customers.”

Gorham, the only female CEO to receive accolades in Education Technology this year through ED-Tech, was taken back.

“To have him criticize me and say don't worry your pretty little head over it, was just ridiculous.”

She stood up for herself and decided to walk away. And she said she could easily hand the title of CEO to her husband, acting CFO of her company, but she refuses to cave to pressure from male investors.

“The first offer I got, they wanted to replace me as CEO and I said no absolutely not.”

The company was her idea, her baby, and she was not about to give it up. Gorham got the idea for her most recent company, Conex-Ed, while getting her degree at Westminster College. She said she “was born to do this.” Her current effort is her third technology company. She’s told male investors, “This is not my first rodeo. Thanks but no. I'm not going to pursue the loan.”

As for advice from the Wall Street Journal, to try using her initials while sourcing cash? She finds it offensive.

Businesswoman Rees Anderson, named one of the 100 most influential people in Utah business agrees.

“I don't think you ever want to hide who you are in any situation. You should absolutely be true to yourself and authentic and if someone is not going to give you money because of your gender that's not an investor you want.”

She recently sold her tech startup, Medi-Connect Global, for $400 million. It was a company she started as a single mom of two. She refused to take no for an answer and went into business knowing that she could and would control her own destiny.

“I don't think I ever approached anything with the thought it would difficult because I was a woman. So perhaps that's why I didn't face a lot of difficulties.”

When she looks back, she wonders if her success, “was its own self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Rees Anderson wanted to be in charge of her life and suggests business startups to women entrepreneurs inside tech, and out.

“You go in not apologizing or acting like it is a limitation that you are a woman.”

She said her gender is an asset, a different way of thinking and a needed perspective in a booming industry.

Now an angel investor, Rees Anderson, doesn't hide from the fact she's a woman -- she owns it. When you walk in her South Jordan office, you know a woman is in charge. There are chandeliers, bedazzled tape dispensers and Barbies in crystal gowns as décor.

“When you are a woman in technology you stand out. It is easy to be remembered in a room of suits and ties.”

Rees Anderson believes that you choose the impression you leave. After years of hiring for her own business, and talking to potential investment partners, she sees where women could be hurting themselves.

“If you voice concerns about balancing motherhood and a career, your future boss or investor will worry too.”

Instead Rees Anderson said that if “a woman came in and had confidence and said 'look I have a child I have to take to this event on Wednesdays but it will not interrupt my job. It won't be a problem and I’ll make sure everything gets done,' ” she would say, “OK great.” Confidence breeds confidence.

“The best thing any woman can do, or any minority, is believe in themselves and just focus.”

While both of these Utah tech CEO's have had different experiences, they can agree that being a woman in tech is a good thing and should not be hidden, by initials or otherwise.

“Use your name; put it out there and be proud of who you are,” Gorham said.

Women will find getting ahead in tech will get easier with time, which means girls in STEM education today will have it a little easier tomorrow.

All it takes is a little confidence and more “women in business, period.”

If you are looking to start your own business, read more about Rees Anderson now investing in businesses and her ideas to help you get ahead.

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