As I’ve discussed before here, I am routinely rewarded with opportunities to serve as a mentor, formally and informally. Sometimes that function happens in context of an individual, sometimes a company, and now and then an event or institution like Techstars, NEXT Boulder, or CU’s New Venture Challenge. It’s all a privilege, and I do as much of this as I can swing.
Today, I received a personal email request to join a mentoring effort for very early-stage startups. This was the call to action: “We’re looking for a couple more awesome female mentors.” I bristled. I mean, “awesome” is a nice compliment, though as I type this I wonder if “awesome” in this context is a subcategory of “female” is a standard different than the more inclusive sense of “awesome” that would apply to all members of our species.
The issue of being a woman in business is something with which I grapple, mostly because I generally consider myself a person in business. I don’t tend to gravitate toward women’s events. I prefer everyone events. I am mindful — even thrilled — that universities and companies and governments are looking to round out their profile of women and people of color on their executive teams and boards. This makes cultural sense. It makes business sense.
Further, I am aware that I bring a different perspective to issues — particularly with tech-enabled companies — for lots of reasons, one of which is that I’m frequently one of the few women around. And I’m one of the few marketing people around. And I’m one of the few ex-lawyers around. And I’m one of the more candid and direct people around. And I am generally the only one around who compares almost all business problems to the market dynamics of online dating. So it goes.
I guess my net reaction here is that if people are going to do this, do it in your own internal calculator. I’m not that game to be labeled or slotted as a “female mentor,” even an awesome one. I hold this person completely blameless; he’s young, energetic and doubtless a fantastic member of our community. And I’m game to start a dialog with him, and with you, about how you view this.