Daisy Pledge knew running a tech start-up would be filled with challenges, but she did not anticipate the sexist hurdles that would be placed in her path…
I’ve been telling myself that in the UK the majority of men who say sexist, misogynistic things do so by accident.
It’s not deliberate or vicious, it’s accidental – they don’t realise what they’re saying.
I recently spoke to a journalist friend about this revelation of mine – and told him that men need to be educated as to what is sexist so they stop making these mistakes. He asked why I thought this and so I told him a story about a recent sexist experience – one of many – on my quest to launching an AR gaming studio.
A man reached out to me from a Facebook group and suggested we have a phone call to see if there’s any way he could help me. Never one to turn down a proposal of help and advice I took him up on the offer and we scheduled a call.
At the time I was still working at a PR agency so I went into Soho square on my lunch break to talk to this man. I told him about the start-up – what the problem is we’re solving and how we’ll get to market. He asked me what my biggest problem was right now; what was holding us back.
I don’t have a techy co-founder. It’s a problem a lot of solo-preneurs have and it’s a problem that isn’t easily solved. Accelerator programmes and investors prefer co-founders so the stress of building a company doesn’t rest on one person’s shoulders. And I completely understand where they’re coming from but surely it’s better to have an individual dealing with start-up stress alone rather than two people dealing with start-up stress and relationship stress on top because they rushed into a partnership without knowing if they could or even should work together.
In some ways finding a co-founder is a lot like finding a husband or wife, it’s a huge decision that shouldn’t be rushed. And this is what I explained to the man on the phone who described himself as a marketing pro.
When I explain this to most people they agree and say it’s incredibly hard. They share stories of co-founders they had or are still working with that they’re trying to get rid of because it turned out they weren’t right for the company. They share advice on how they found a co-founder or how they’re dealing with the stress without one.
They don’t respond like this man did.
I’m not usually lost for words but as I sat on a bench enjoying talking to someone about my start-up and looking ahead to what the future holds I found exactly that.
“You’re a good looking girl, why don’t you get a techy boyfriend?”
I’m interested to know if this would have been said to a male founder looking for a techy co-founder? Actually, I’m not interested at all because I know it wouldn’t have been said.
So I said nothing.
He laughed and said “that probably sounded a bit misogynistic didn’t it?”
At this moment I switched off. I wasn’t interested in any advice he wanted to offer so I continued the niceties and then got off the phone never to speak to him again.
After recounting this story to my journalist friend I explained that whilst I was upset this man thought it was OK to suggest I use my vagina to find a co-founder I blew it off as one of those things older men say because they don’t realise they’re being offensive.
Which is when the true revelation came.
“Daisy, men always know when they’re being sexist. They pretend they don’t so they can get away with it but they always know exactly what they’re doing and saying.”
And so I sat back in shock. I had been giving men the benefit of the doubt when according to a man I shouldn’t. I had been naive and I wasn’t alone.
Perhaps it’s giving people the benefit of the doubt that’s actually helping perpetuate this sexist culture that permeates the media and TV industry. It seems every month a news story breaks about a senior figure doing or saying abhorrent things to women.
And when the most powerful person in the world is allowed to boast about ‘grabbing women’s pussies’ it’s really no surprise at all that other men believe it’s OK to do the same.
Too many have been getting away with it because it was assumed it was accidental. Slip of the tongue, a joke – not literal or deliberate.
We need to do more to stop this behaviour. We need to stop ignoring the victims, and we need to stand up against it – if you don’t then you’re advocating it.
Thankfully the majority of people – both male and female – are very happy to talk, listen and offer sound advice without suggesting using your biology to succeed. But that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore the bad.
For too long we have stood by and decided it’s not worth the fight because they might not listen, because it was only a small blip, because it was ‘out of character’, because no one will believe me.
Well, actually, it is.