Why Silicon Valley Is Still A Boys’ Club

Women have come a long, long way in the corporate world over the past few decades but one particular area where we are still the severe minority is in founder and executive ranks in Silicon Valley companies. (Click here to view charts of how tough it is for women in Silicon Valley via Business Insider). Despite growing up in San Francisco, it wasn’t until the past year that I immersed in the Valley culture, meeting with an astonishing number of amazing and inspiring people of both genders, some who are fellow startups and others who have graduated to the shining successes every newbie hopes to replicate.

With my own Asian Fusion startup, I’ve engaged in numerous meetings with colleagues and advisors before taking on the more serious business of discussions with VCs. For the most part, I’ve met with heartwarming support and kind generosity from both seasoned investors and fellow founders who have become lifelong friends. There is a small group in the Valley however, dispersed as they are, lurking behind the shadows of legitimate businessmen, who appear intent on stifling women’s growth as leaders.

Everybody is entitled to her/his opinion. I take no offense whatsoever when someone does not believe that the company I’m building will succeed. Having faith in myself and passion in my dreams are fundamental prerequisites to living the entrepreneurial life. If I cried and folded over every time somebody said “don’t bother,” or “you’re not going to make it,” then I should’ve stayed in my mother’s womb. It’s all in the delivery. When a Silicon Valley man tells me his opinion, it had better be based on the content of what I’m creating and the words coming out of my mouth, not on what I look like or what I’m wearing.

As a business woman and more importantly as an entrepreneur, I have spent the last ten years battling my way from one industry to another, from engineering to music and quite a bit in between, to find that negotiating the best deals often has little to do with my actual skills or intelligence. In some instances, my appearance and wardrobe of choice has been an asset, appealing to men in power who make decisions relying more on one head than the other. In other instances like a recent meeting I had with a so called Silicon Valley advisor, appearance and wardrobe became a liability, apparently labeling me as a girl who can’t possibly be intelligent, competent and least of all, a girl whose startup is worth investing in.

Entrepreneurship comes with as many perks as it does hardships. One of the more superficial but obvious perks is that as our own boss, we get to dress the way we want. Isn’t this what most of Silicon Valley has demonstrated? If dressing in appropriate business attire (crisp suit and tie, if it was unclear) is classified as “not fitting in the culture” by one SV advisor, then the trend du jour is to look like a homeless bum begging for change on the streets. Haggard, forlorn, waif-like, with a complete disregard as to whether others might be tired of smelling you in the same old ratty, stained shirt and torn jeans is the look it takes to get funded. With countless wannabes in the Valley, Mark Zuckerberg must be rapping Eminem’s “I’m the real slim shady and all you other slim shadys are just imitatin’.”

If the men can throw away all convention of what is deemed appropriate business attire, then why is there a double standard? If we were to judge most of the men in Silicon Valley by appearances alone, most would hardly qualify to wait tables at a decent restaurant, let alone bestow investment advice worth millions.

On the surface there is a level of professionalism the likes of which afford phenomenal women like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Safra Catz of Oracle their executive positions. But make no mistake about it- the Valley is far from immune to the typical boys’ club that shuts women out because we don’t belch, scratch our balls (of which we have plenty of) and chug beer like there’s no tomorrow. Look around and there are plenty of friendly tete-a-tetes between the boys, where deals get brokered over beer, pizza, stubbly faces and gimmicky shirts.

Why is it still this way? Because we allow this behavior to continue unbattled. Women who are otherwise girly and love their trendy fashion threads on the weekend dumb down their sense of femininity in the Valley to fit in this boys’ club in order to be taken seriously. I refuse to succumb to SV pressure. I have not worked so hard over the past ten years, running on little more than three hours of sleep a night and multitasking like Vishnu to allow myself to be bullied into being someone that I’m not.

I love being a woman. I love dressing the way I do because I just do. It’s not for men, it’s not for women. It’s for me. If every man were to drop off the face of the earth (God forbid ‘cause I love men, I really do), I’d still be wearing my red dress and stiletto heels. That a man automatically assumes a woman entrepreneur in a dress must be out to seduce funding out of him rather than garner a deserved, ethical investment is as archaic as calling gay men ‘fairies.’

At the end of the day, I’m an entrepreneur who gets things done right. I’ve had my successes and failures; this isn’t my first time around the startup block. My ultimate goal is to create a global lifestyle brand that will affect lasting, positive change in countless lives across Asia and America. And if getting there means that my funding will come from outside of Silicon Valley where already, investors in New York, India and China are showing strong interest, then I shall blow a bittersweet kiss to the Valley that I have fond memories of and quietly say, “see you at the billion dollar finish line.”

I look forward to the day when the content of my character and my fundability factor no longer relates to my appearance or wardrobe. Until then, I’ll go on wearing my red dress, be CEO and do it better.