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Ways male allies can support female startups

By Kristen Cooper originally published in the Indianapolis Business Journal on 3/26/21

Historically, women have gone unfunded and have been underfunded while being expected to do more than their male counterparts. This has to change in order for women to have true equity in the workplace. Male allies in C-suites can help by working to eliminate these often-overlooked forms of gender disparity.

Compensate women providing external services.

There are unspoken expectations in many corporate cultures that women will do certain things for free. If women take on the financial burden and time commitment to create networks, acquire unique skill sets, and advance their education, why are they not being paid the fair market value for their expertise?

In the last five years, I’ve spoken for free at dozens of events and written dozens of articles (including 22 columns for the IBJ). When I agreed to speak this year with the Girl Scouts, Women in Finance, and the Indy Rainbow Chamber, it brought me great pleasure to be able to provide presentations and lead discussions to help those audiences better understand startups and startup investing.

In return, many people have generously supported the work I’m doing to grow the number of women starting scalable businesses. This is important work we all should be doing for our communities. But there is a difference between community-engagement work and unpaid work.

While being asked to write, speak and/or moderate is recognition of one’s achievements, it still takes a great deal of time to become an expert, prepare articles and presentations and—in pre- and post-pandemic times—commute to and from an event.

Women are too often asked to offer presentations, consulting, writing and mentoring without compensation by organizations that have the capacity to compensate them. I am always happy to support a startup or organization when I believe in the mission and leadership and have an opportunity to reach out to a new audience. But if an organization is mature and making millions or billions of dollars, it needs to compensate this work. Male allies can create a corporate culture in which this is an expectation, ensuring that women are paid adequately for their expertise.

Sponsor women’s organizations.

In 2018, Max Yoder, CEO of Lessonly, agreed to sponsor The Startup Ladies by allowing them to use the training software he built. There wasn’t a significant out-of-pocket expense and it gave hundreds of budding entrepreneurs and investors access to the curricula at Startup Study Hall and Startup Investing 101. Last year, Jon Dartt, vice president of trade channel at Delta Faucet, hosted a luncheon and half-day conference for more than 130 founders and investors so more women could learn together and meet fellow entrepreneurs and potential funders. Rob Clendoning, executive director of marketing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, advocated internally to secure a significant sponsorship that supported the expansion of virtual Startup Study Hall, while helping Kelley students and professors connect to entrepreneurs and investors.

In all three cases, these exemplary male allies had the vision and signature authority to play a role in leveling the playing field for women in the startup space. Because of their support, more women gained access to funding, education, community, mental wellness programs and mentorship.

When male business owners and executives route funding and support to women leaders addressing diverse markets, diverse employees want to work in those places and diverse customers want to purchase their products and services.

Fund female founders tapping into untapped markets.

It is astounding how many investors will write large checks to male founders who show up to a pitch with vaporware, inaccurate financial projections and pipe dreams—while self-funded women who pitch realistic projections and have followers, customers and repeatable revenue are often dismissed as not being able to get product to market fast enough. They don’t get nearly the same amount of investment to execute sales and marketing strategies as male founders. Consequently, female founders are often doing more with less money for longer periods of time.

Male investors need to modify their investment lenses when determining scaling viability. While more than $136 billion was invested in U.S. startups last year, female founders captured less than 3% of that money.

Right or wrong, it takes women longer to raise money to grow their companies. Sustainable revenue and traction over a long period should be seen as a green flag for investing—not a red one. Male allies understand that creating equal opportunities for women isn’t a zero-sum game. Rather, it’s good for a company’s bottom line and its reputation.


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