Want To See More Women In The Startup World? A Female Founder Shares Her Top 4 Asks 

Illustration of lone woman in a group of chairs

By Andrea Ippolito

There are too few female founders, and if you don’t know why, I’ll fathom a guess.

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In May, I authored an op-ed describing why there is a lack of women heading up startups. Cliff Notes on that piece: The entrepreneurship community must pick up the pace of innovation, add more jobs and hit delete on the issues plaguing society—and that includes bolstering female founders when they need the support most: when they give birth.

With that said, I must confess that despite my “loud and proud” rant about the need for change to increase female founders, I did not take parental leave, nor did my partner. Indeed, I was back to work two days after my second child was born. Why? Because I felt I couldn’t.

SimpliFed founder Andrea Ippolito

As a pre-seed company, I know we need to hit our milestones this year in order to raise our next round. Sure, we had incredible help from grandparents and the semi-luxury of working remotely. But I am also aware that I am insanely lucky to have this support and flexibility while many others do not.

But seriously, how feasible is paid parental leave to get implemented within the startup community? What does this look like in practice?

Now we all network differently, but men (I know, here I’m stereotyping) in my network will confidently ask for things—for that new role, the raise, the introduction.

Fine. So in taking a page from them, I have four “asks” for the entrepreneurship community. Some may not prompt answers, but they should inspire us to think about how we could redesign within the ecosystem.

1. Let’s normalize paid parental leave for all founders, not just women.

Mom, dad, step-parent, foster parent–if you’re a parent and you’re a founder or you’re an employee of a startup, you deserve a paid leave when your child arrives. Recently, a study was published saying that unless everyone takes paid parental leave (both mothers and fathers), women will get left behind.

2. Work-life balance is more than a dated buzzword. We must normalize not working 100-hour work weeks.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that mom is how the house stays together. Working moms aren’t going to sign up to be founders if they can’t have the flexibility they need and thought they were signing up for by leading the charge both in business and at home.

Articles like this—in which one startup CEO details how he spends almost every minute of his 90-hour-plus work weeks—are crazy town and will only drive moms away from joining the entrepreneurship community.

We need to be more intentional about how we communicate, but most importantly we need to change the culture within startups to be more accommodating of the needs of working parents. Typically, when an entrepreneur raises concerns about being an entrepreneur or early startup team member and being a parent, the response is something along the lines of, “Well if you were committed to your company, then you would still make it happen” or “Investors have milestones to hit for their LPs and can’t take a risk on someone who isn’t 200 percent focused on their company.”

My response–this is the exact mindset that has kept women and BIPOC founders out of the game. It’s incredibly short-sighted because we know that diverse organizations are associated with quicker exits, improved decision-making, higher revenue per dollar invested, and improved financial returns.

3. Allow for remote work in your startup or accelerator programs.

There are some jobs that need to be in-person, no doubt, but we now have the infrastructure to support many jobs online.

Being postpartum in the fourth and fifth trimester is a thousand times easier when you’re working remotely. I cannot express this enough. Breast pumping and feeding is an all-encompassing activity, and having to go to find a place in an office or co-working space is a pain in the arse.

Also, sometimes I need to sit on my couch and work because a human exited my body not so long ago. Other times, I need access to the million-jillion products to support me after having a baby, such as my iron supplements because I am now anemic, my special seat cushion to help with my pelvic floor recovery, a change of clothes from having to change constantly due to sweating from hormones being out of whack, or my ice packs to help reduce inflammation in my breasts after having mastitis.

While this might be TMI, this is the reality for many moms that just gave birth and working remotely helps with all of these things.

4. Support more flexible structures for startup team members.

On our team, we call this the “guinea pig.”

SimpliFed COO Erin Hunt has four boys, and one of them had a presentation in the middle of the day at school where he was presenting on a guinea pig. She shared that she was going to attend and we chatted about how much in past jobs we wished we could have attended guinea pig-like moments, but it never felt “safe” to ask. These guinea pig moments, as trivial as they might sound, are not trivial at all—they are super memorable moments and they are fleeting.

Because many organizations don’t give their workers the flexibility to be part of their children’s lives during the day (or God forbid they get sick), they suffer massive attrition by women, especially to more flexible jobs. The organizations that figure this out will thrive and be better able to retain their employees and the pipeline of leadership in their company.

I welcome your call to discuss how we can work to move the needle on these critical issues. In fact, I dare you.

Andrea Ippolito is founder of SimpliFed, and a leader in entrepreneurship and health tech. She is also the program lead of Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Cornell, and has testified before the Small Business Committee in Congress.

Illustration: Dom Guzman


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