Margaret Graziano, CEO and Founder of KeenAlignment, on the Path of the Female Founder
Deciding to launch my first company was one of the boldest decisions I’d ever made. I was young and naive and immensely ambitious. Like all entrepreneurs, the road to success was straight up a mountain–challenge after challenge. Looking back on it now, though, it’s interesting how much of a role my gender played in creating extra barriers at every step of the business. I wanted to reflect on a few of those moments, and how they were formative in my leadership methods now.
After establishing a leased office and self-funding the early stages of our business, my founding partner and I looked to secure the funding that would take us to the next level. We wanted to grow on our tentative success, hitting $1 million in billings early. A bank agreed to provide us with a business loan–great news until I went to do the paperwork and learned that the bank executive planned to refuse to push the transaction through unless my husband was present.
Further down the road, in meetings with venture capital firms, I was repeatedly told not to speak unless spoken to by male executives we’d hired. After the meetings ended, I often heard from investors that they loved my enthusiasm and wished they would’ve heard more from me.
Nearly a decade later, funding is still a game of discrimination. In January, Valentina Zarya of Fortune Magazine’s Broadsheet found that female founders got just 2% of venture capital funds last year, up from 1.9% the year before.
Running the business
Down the road, it became clear that women were seen as a distraction to developing the product. Female-heavy departments were cordoned to an upper floor and kept out of the male-heavy departments below.
Outside of regular gender discrimination and harassment, perhaps the most frustrating mistreatment occurred to my partner. Despite her holding a Ph.D. and years of expertise in our industry, the executive team chose to bring in a male doctor, with no knowledge of the product, who was given veto power over the decision-making processes she had formerly been responsible for.
Whether it was a concern for integrity, clear agreements, or understanding our ideal buyer, our words fell on deaf ears. Every one of us women felt marginalized, constricted and ambushed. Today, forty percent of American women say they’ve experienced unwanted sexual attention, and this number is most likely underreported. This type of harassment has been identified as one of the most damaging and ubiquitous barriers to career success and satisfaction for women.”
In 2014 I sold the company. Again