There's an old adage that says, 'if you shoot for the stars, you end up on the moon.' For me, start-ups are quite the same. Those who really set out to change the world, generally do in some way, man or woman, rich or poor. The problem with talking so regularly about the lack of women in business, start-ups or on boards is that it does start to make us believe that changing the world is impossible for a woman without outside support. The reality is that many women may just make a choice that they don't want to take a journey to the moon.
In the tech start-up world, there is still an imbalance between male and female success, particularly when it comes to raising money. According to CNBC in 2011, just 20% of businesses raising money were female-led. Of those, just 13% received funding. When you do the math that is a very small number.
However, there are numerous great female role models in tech start-ups. Two of them invested in my business, MOVE Guides. Both founded revolutionary businesses of their own and now invest in others to do the same. They sit on boards, mentor founders, advise the government and, in their spare time, raise children. They built their careers without quotas or caveats, which makes them admirable role models for men or women.
Years ago, it was much harder to be a woman in business. Traditional home roles were more defined, discrimination permeated business and there weren't many successful female role models. I don't think we still live in this world, but the numbers continue to suggest otherwise, especially in tech start-ups. One has to wonder why.
I have heard people say that women don't negotiate as well as men; that male-dominated industries like tech make it hard for women to succeed; or that we need quotas to help women get to the top. But I have another theory. Many women make a choice not to build and lead businesses.
Running a business is hard. Building a business really hard. And building a high-growth global business is exceptionally hard. It's an emotional and uncertain rollercoaster where people sit at every ascent telling you that you're wrong. It takes over your life and your family's life unlike anything else in the world. I think it's a life that a lot of women just don't want to have.
I have a lot of friends who choose not to have this life. Many of them would make brilliant business leaders, start-up founders or board members, but prefer to make regular yoga classes, have dinner at home and attend their kids' cricket matches. For many of them, this is a conscious choice. And one that society must not judge, any more than it judges the women who chose the opposite.
As the European Union discusses quotas on boards and we celebrate the Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell, we must remember that both lives are a choice. And both are equally noble.
Brynne Herbert is a shortlister of the 2012 Women of The Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday 20 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.
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