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It's Not About "The Boys' Club" Anymore: 5 Lessons From Women's Startup Lab

I began Women's Startup Lab because I believe in the power behind community, even when it comes to the competitive nature of early stage startups and new markets.
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If you're a woman in business, maybe you're familiar with this story: You're leading a meeting or driving a deal and when you're face-to-face with a client, he approaches your male colleague as the decision-maker rather than you. Why is it that a business woman is often mistaken for the executive assistant, rather than the boss? It's tough to admit that people still struggle with unconscious bias even during a time or industry many people consider to be progressive.

Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist of Apple, and now Canva, recently said at a recent Women's Startup Lab Unconference, "The way to get Silicon Valley to this next paradigm on gender is to very simply realize it's so difficult to create a successful company in general that you need to use all your weapons and to think that you are not using half your weapons because of gender really is ludicrous."

I began Women's Startup Lab because I believe in the power behind community, even when it comes to the competitive nature of early stage startups and new markets. Collective intelligence, designed in either an accelerator model or through one's research, is the backbone to efficiency and learning the lessons without doing it the hard way, wasting valuable time, money, and may I add -- emotion.

The innovative leader wants to be successful in his or her career and surround him or herself with other successful men and women. It's no longer a zero-sum game because we're all defining our own meaning of what success means to us and within our individual markets. While sexism still, unfortunately, persists in our culture, I don't believe the general and open-minded thinker is "out to get" women.

Claire Cain Miller's recent New York Times article "Technology's Man Problem," gave clear insight into the gendered outlook from the dark corners of the technocracy, whereas Claire Shipman and Katty Kay's recent article, "The Confidence Gap," in The Atlantic parses the difference between men and women's competence verses confidence. Anecdotal and empirical studies survey that women generally score higher on competency across the board, whereas men are far more confident, therefore they get promoted and move ahead faster than women.

These trending articles make me ask: "Why are women trying to join the 'Boys' Club,' when we can rebuild a culture where both women and men are at the bargaining table?" People hold an unconscious bias and as a society we need to wake up from our idle state and reinvigorate the workforce with new and inclusive standards to allow innovation to flourish, independent of gender.

Born in Hiroshima, Japan, I've built my professional career around the notion that your differences aren't impediments, but powerful resources to bring to the table. At Women's Startup Lab, we empower our business growth through community collaboration and here are some of the best lessons we've learned together:

1. Remember to collaborate even when you think business is about competition. Entrepreneurship is a lonely road, especially for women. Women founders face the same obstacles as all startups, such as fundraising, building a customer base, establishing business acumen, and communicating effectively. Women also deal with the added pressure of working with investors, customers and colleagues who address business differently. Women's Startup Lab provides a place for women tech entrepreneurs to be members of a collaborative community, gain business and personal skills, emotional support, confidence, and build their network to develop the precise set of skills needed to start, run and grow a thriving startup. In all this, seek insight and community from those women who are experiencing the same struggles. By exchanging intelligence, you can learn solutions for future strategies, while also getting answers for your current problems.

2. It's not just about "leaning in." Sheryl Sandberg told business women to "lean in," but it's also important to remember that success in business has more to it than pushing yourself, but it's about how you leverage opportunities, your skill set and your community. This is where The Hito Rule comes in, inspired by the Japanese character meaning "human." Pictorially, the character is comprised of two arcs leaning against one another. Similar to collaborating, Hito reminds us it's important to lean in, lean up, and lean on your community to better your business. There's always an exchange; you'll help someone out and they, in turn, will help you -- which, brings me to the importance of networking:

3. Networking isn't about quantity, but quality. Aim high to meet trusted and well-respected advisors and partners for future opportunities. Facetime is invaluable and strong connections are made by engaging with the same people more than once. Remember to be tactical with the events you attend. Don't go to a free event because it's free. Spend your time at specific events. For example, instead of going to a general tech startup event, attend a specific gathering like a Speakers Panel for Angel Investors in the gaming industry. By narrowing your scope, you'll meet the right niche of people and begin to cement strong relationships.

4. There's nothing like finding strength and accountability in a community that you've helped build. Community and understanding what a fellow founder is going through is invaluable, and Women's Startup Lab has been critical in many women's business development. All Cohort members contribute to the success, lessons, and culture to Women's Startup Lab. As one founder noted, "Women's Startup Lab makes you accountable, but it's a different accountability than what you have with a Board of Directors." Imbue meaning into your work by connecting with others as well as yourself. In business, it's important to find your own color or song and you'll resonate more with investors and your audiences.

5. There are always options. As a founder, you determine the path for your business success. Sometimes, the navigation takes a different route than what we see modeled in Silicon Valley, but that doesn't mean it's a wrong choice. Through mentors and hearing alternative ways of doing things, founders can learn how to incorporate new techniques to carve an alternative route to success.