That difficulty, however, may just be a fact of start-up life, where entrepreneurs grapple with myriad issues — from developing a sustainable business to hiring the right people for the job.
“Sexism is one of the things that you have to overcome in building a great company,” according to Melissa Guzy, a Silicon Valley veteran who is founder and managing partner at Hong Kong-based Arbor Ventures. She told an audience at a RISE debate on the merits of quotas as a solution to tech’s gender imbalance that if someone is “going to get derailed because a guy acted like he was in a high school locker room for about three minutes, you’re never going to get anywhere in a start-up.”
Guzy acknowledged that Silicon Valley’s gender-related issues have been around for nearly three decades as a result of the male-dominated cultural ecosystem. To combat the sort of bad behavior highlighted in recent media reports and have a more diverse environment, the entire ecosystem needs to change, Guzy argued. That change, she said, includes more women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics in college, becoming entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Silicon Valley could take a lesson or two from Asia, according to Guzy: “Asia is far better for a woman, especially as a venture capitalist and also in a technology company,” she said, adding that more women held high-profile roles in the public and private sectors in the region.
For example, China’s ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, which is valued at $50 billion, is led by Jean Liu, who serves as president. Southeast Asian rival Grab was co-founded by female entrepreneur Hooi Ling Tan. Prominent Taiwanese tech company HTC was co-founded by Cher Wang, who is chairwoman, CEO and president and Sun Yafang is the chairwoman of the board at Chinese telecommunication services provider Huawei.
To be sure, having prominent executives in big tech companies do not necessarily reflect the overall conditions for women entrepreneurs in Asia.
Earlier this year, Mastercard released its Index of Women Entrepreneurs for 2017, where it said China was in a unique position.
“Women’s progress as business owners and entrepreneurs is nearly at par with leading high-income nations … despite having weaker supporting entrepreneurial conditions, knowledge assets and financial access.” The report noted that statistics pointed to sluggish labor market dynamics and poor employment opportunities for both genders, but it added that female entrepreneurs faced more challenges due to the types of industries represented and cultural norms.