"Surprising" Gender Dynamics

I've had a few conversations recently that make me made me realize most people don't know how frequently certain gender-based dynamics come up in work situations.

These are the dynamics I've seen a lot in the past few years of my career. Some are specific to fundraising for a venture-backed startup.

These are all fairly easy to avoid, and could make the difference in hiring someone, or being invited into a round.

"Are you biologically suited to do this work?"

I have never had a job where I didn't have a conversation about if biology was the reason there were less women in computer science. This happens a lot, it's not a few outliers. Here is a presentation that explains it well from Terri Oda.

Plus asking the question is likely to create stereotype threat, which causes underperformance.

Some people manage to be a little more subtle about it. One potential investor said "I just don't know if you'll be able to talk to engineers." It was odd given I am an engineer and have worked primarily with engineers for my entire career. Given that, I decided it wouldn't be a good fit, and ended the call. Right after, he sent me an email and the first sentence was "I'm not inherently biased."

If you have a male cofounder, people will ask if you are married to him.

I was asked this more than a handful of times during fundraising. I doubt that anyone asks men if they are married to their cofounder. My guess is this is pattern matching based on the large set of married couples that went through YC, especially in the earlier years (see point 3 from a piece I wrote in 2014).

I have had only one fundraising meeting ever where I thought this question was funny and appropriate, and that was based completely on personal rapport.

For x% of scheduling, people assume you are an EA, don't need to be invited to the meeting, or will bring a man to the meeting.

This happens regardless of if you are the CEO or not. Doesn't just happen to me, I ran across this tweet last night and lots of other people get it, too.

The more subtle version is other EAs sometimes use the "between EAs" tone with you, rather than the "scheduling with an external guest" tone. They will also repeatedly re-add men, only want to take the meeting if a man is also going, or assume you are superflouous in the meeting.

The cringey "he couldn't make eye contact" thing is real.

The extreme version of being superfluous in the meeting is when you're complete ignored. I once had a meeting where the person did not make eye contact or address me directly for an entire hour, even when we talked about my areas of expertise.

The pre-meeting smalltalk is different.

As far as I can tell, this isn't bad, but it is different. At a large number of investing meetings, my "pre-meeting small talk" was about investors' kids. A fair amount of it was about Olin as an interesting college option, which felt authentic. Sometimes it was more general. I don't have kids, but I don't mind talking about them! I didn't realize this was different until Paul asked me why everyone talked to me about kids, and said it never happened to him.