There are pluses and minuses to being a female CEO of a technology startup. For Yunha Kim, CEO of Locket, one of the minuses has been getting inappropriate emails from men.
In a post for Medium, she shared an email response she got from a developer she reached out to about potentially hiring him, in which he suggested that if she dated him or offered him “some unconventional ways to lure me way from my company,” he might consider it, ending with, “if you know what I mean ;)”:
Kim added, “And the sad news is, this is one of the more professional emails.”
In an interview with ThinkProgress, she explained just how typical these emails have been. Since her company has been around for a year she is doing less networking and recruiting, but when she was doing more as she first started out, emails like these came in “I think probably once every two weeks at least,” she said. “Maybe not as bad as that, but something along those lines. And it could be not only in emails but other meetings as well.” Now that that the company is funded and has a product, she said, “I think people are taking us a little more seriously and it doesn’t happen as often.”
But she notes that other women have had similar experiences. “After the article, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from founders and females in general, and they have even been forwarding me their own emails,” she said. Some founders say this sort of behavior goes on even with investors. Men also write her to share stories of harassment from female bosses.
While at first she says she was really shocked to get these responses, she has become more immune to it and now it doesn’t really effect her. She also noted that the email she shared was a blessing in disguise in some ways. “I got that email and I knew exactly what I needed to do with that guy,” she said. “I don’t even need to bother trying to hire him.”
But she thinks it’s important to talk about it these experiences. After she posted the article on Medium, which also ran on Business Insider, she said there were a lot of hurtful things said in the comment sections. “If I were to post any other stuff, after this experience I might be a little more careful,” she said. That may be part of why female founders aren’t talking publicly about it as much.
She also noted that there are positives that come from being a woman in this world. “It could be helpful that you’re female, because you stand out,” she said. “I don’t think being a female affected performance.”
Women are still scarce among CEOs, despite the fact that they launch businesses at nearly twice the rate of men. They led just 3 percent of American companies that went public between 1996 and 2013, and among the largest companies they make up less than 15 percent of chief executives. The problem is worse in technology, where make make up just 6 percent of of the CEOs of the top 100 companies.
While Kim sees this as a bonus for her company, allowing her to stand out, other women can encounter tough obstacles beyond inappropriate emails. Even with the exact same pitch, a study found that investors preferred pitches from men over women. Women who get degrees in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — leave their careers in those fields in large numbers and early on, likely due to both discrimination and to the conflict between work demands and raising children.