Ambition has run through my veins since I could walk. At age 3, I was fearlessly springing through the air at gymnastics, and by 18, I began my professional balancing act. I was the Director of Operations at a small business, and then leapt quickly into the corporate world. When I turned 26, I jumped higher, and began my first venture beyond cubicle walls – eFlirt Expert. But life as a startup CEO wasn’t exactly as envisioned.
Quickly, I noticed some unanticipated hurdles.
The tech space is an all-boys’ club and I wear heels. And though I was in my mid-20s,my baby face resembled an undergrad.
As someone who had already experienced success from the Fortune 500s and never second-guessed the level of respect others would have for me, I was in shock. Some of these men think I’m a joke. Regardless of my firm handshake, thoughtful discussion and thriving company, it soon became obvious that to some of them, I was just the girl in the pink dress.
I contemplated changing my look, but decided my femininity shouldn’t be stifled, especially in an industry that embraces individuality. I not only owed it to myself as a woman and to my creativity as a fashionista, but to my personality as a brand. Besides, these men weren’t the only ones I answered to – I needed to still resonate with my Twitter followers (who make up 40 percent of our customer base) and the press (who had begun writing en mass about my company).
So I tried other tactics — experimenting with the way I introduced myself, becoming a real-time encyclopedia of the latest tech innovations and making myself a staple at any event with the phrase ‘Web 2.0.’
But the reaction was always the same: eyes glazed over, brain tuned out, a vice grip on business cards (as if I’m getting one from them). Of course, owning a dating company didn’t help – it was yet another strike against me, another reason for The Men to write off my business clout. Dating isn’t a real industry, their expressions seemed to say.
But then, the tech gods shined down and bestowed upon me The New York Times. That’s right — the girl in the pink dress was giving advice to single readers for five straight days during Valentine’s week. Business poured in, but more importantly, my inbox was flooded with messages from The Men. Saw you in The Times, we should talk about working together, one said. Our brands could be interesting together, said another. It was clear that The Times had spoken and The Men had listened.
Never question your value, even if others don’t seem to see it. Sure, my problem was my gender, but it’s much broader than that. As entrepreneurs, we all have unique setbacks and the most trying things will inevitably be the least expected. So accept the challenge and chart your own course. It’s most important that you sustain the bad times enough to relish the moments of true accomplishment.