Y Combinator’s new president recently reached out to ask advice on boosting female entrepreneurship. Ellen Chisa responds.
By Ellen Chisa (Product Manager, Kickstarter)
Recently Sam Altman (newly President of Y Combinator) tweeted, asking for advice about women:
question for current and potential female founders–what could YC do to encourage you to start companies? i’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
— Sam Altman (@sama) March 18, 2014
Personally, I prefer people ask for help. It may be naive, but no one is obligated to give them help. I am an eternal optimist, so I tend to respond. Given that, I sent Sam an email.
I’m not going to publish my entire email verbatim, but wanted to publicly share the suggestions that were in it. It is admittedly most of the email. I think these suggest apply to anyone in this space – not just Y Combinator.
1. Hire someone to show that you’re investing in these issues, either on a temporary basis or full time.
It shows seriousness about solving the problem. Much the way I like accelerator programs indicating seriousness for an individual who is looking to make a change (hackerschool, startup institute, etc) – Y Combinator hiring someone would show that it’s top of mind and important.
Secondly, this is a really hard problem. It’s not the sort of thing a little free advice from the internet solves. I’ve been thinking about it (and living it) for eight years, and I’m far far from having all the answers. It’s the sort of issue that needs people who have the time to do good work and research.
2. Proactively listen & respond to the community that already exists (preferably in a non-defensive way).
I was at the YCFF Conference. I wrote about it. I raised some questions, and pointed out some things that weren’t uncomfortable to me. It wasn’t meant to be attacking or damning. I’ve talked to a bunch of people about it. I haven’t talked to anyone from YC about it. I’m unsure if it wasn’t seen – or if it wasn’t important. I don’t mind, because I write primarily for myself and those it helps. But it seems as though people who are taking the time to consider / respond to your organization are the type you’d want to be listening to, and reaching out to. I feel rather sad that I’m writing this, after I already wrote a bunch trying to explain things.
The only article I saw that was responded to was this one.
Unfortunately, the main response was that her comment about Alexis was incorrect. I fully agree that Alexis is a proud non-technical founder, but that wasn’t really the point of her piece. Her piece has a ton of great points, and it stuck me very negatively that Paul and Alexis would bother to respond to that one piece defensively, rather than looking for a way to learn and benefit.
3. Be extremely self-aware in your personal thoughts/actions.
I don’t want to hammer on you for one incident because I’m sure you’ve already gotten that enough. That said, a defining point for me in if my managers/mentors in tech have been people I want to be around, is how personally aware they are of gender/tech issues.
If you want to be a leader and make YC seem approachable for female founders, it needs to be something you think about personally too.
(For the record, I’m not saying you do this ALL THE TIME or something like that – just that it’s something you need to be even more aware of as a leader).
From this blog: “Lots of other signs point to a bubble—founders of Series A stage companies being angel investors, a significant uptick in the number of parties, hot girls roaming bars trying to chat with any guy that looks like he might be an engineer and looking for a job, soaring rents, soaring salaries, lots of new investors coming to valley, and MBAs starting companies as the fashionable thing to do again.”
4. Go out of your way to recruit.
Like it or not, there is already a reputation that Y Combinator isn’t funding female entrepreneurs. You have to overcome that perception. I’d go out of your way to reach out to people. I do get contacted by Heads of Product. Female engineers get contacted too.
Figure out who you think would be a great founder, and personally ask them to apply or get them thinking about it. Have meetings with them even if they aren’t sure. If you aren’t sure who to ask, ask other people who would know. You got “enough” people from an initial set who read Paul’s essays/hang out on HackerNews, but that doesn’t mean that’s the best possible set. Just because it’s “enough” doesn’t mean there isn’t recruitment to be done.
[Editor’s note: Altman has posted on what he’s learned so far from the discussion here.]
What’s your response to Sam Altman’s tweet?
About the blogger: Ellen Chisa is a Product Manager at Kickstarter. In her free time, she serves as a trustee of the NYC Awesome Foundation and reads lots of books. In 2014, she wants to check something into Github everyday. Follow her on Twitter.