We need to get ism’s out of the Startup space

- May 28, 2013 3 MIN READ

As the startup scene across Australia continue’s to grow, continues to become more popular and continue’s to attract a more diverse range of people to the space, it is important that we learn to work together. Whilst many of us out there may be in it for selfish reasons [grow wealth, certain lifestyle, fame] which is totally ok, we have to embrace the fact that we are also contributing to something much bigger than ourselves [the economy, change making, the next generation] and the one thing that will stop us from being a true growth engine within Australia, are ism’s. What’s an ism? It is that suffix that you usually see on the end of words like age, sex, race, feminine, activist et al that have a tendency to polarise or offend. Some ism’s are bad [sexism] some ism’s are intended to address serious issues we have in society [activism] – But I am of the opinion that in order to work towards the unified goal of the startup scene: which should be to increase the contribution technology ventures and disruptive business models make to the Aussie bottom line, we need to really stop the [intentional or otherwise] polarisation that happens everyday and instead take an educational approach with one another, otherwise we are all rats running on a wheel, creating another version of the “race” that we just escaped from, creating another bunch of things we dislike about where we stand, gaining credibility and feeling fulfilled.

I have observed a number of interactions over the past couple of weeks between folks in the Sydney scene that could have gone completely different and actually yield better results for all parties involved. An example was when via social media the founder of a female entrepreneurs group wrote on the wall of a startup event being held by a local university. The comment basically put forth the question if there was any chance having some more female representation in the mentor / speaker / panel at the event, a reasonable question. The response by one member requested the question asker to keep her “feminazi bullshit off the page” – this comment was later deleted. However this was not before a screen shot was taken and the image shown to people in the media.

I have two problems with this situation. The first is that as an organiser or someone affiliated with the event the person that made the derogatory comment had that particular reaction as a first response, the second was that further polarisation of the situation occurred by the post being blasted on social media and to trade media as an immediate reaction to the derogatory comment. Neither party sort to educate the other, instead we now have two parties that will likely never engage in conversation again. And when you are trying to build a connected community, missing links in the chain mean the community weakens.

On Tuesday during the SydStart conference I had a light bulb moment [actually a couple of them] during the talk being given by Dean McEvoy. In his talk Dean spoke about the need of separating yourself from your business and how only once you do that can you really take on criticism and feedback properly, having just gone through this process literally in the last month with Shoe String, I had a break through in understanding why it was reader & revenue wise the business had suddenly turned around for the better in a big way: it was because I stopped taking the feedback as a personal insult and started thinking of the business as a different entity to myself. The basis of this philosophy can be applied to the ism problem in the community.

For example instead of retaliating with sexism to the question on the wall of the event, and by instead stepping back and understanding that it was a question and slight critique on the event and not himself the young gentlemen had the chance to open up dialogue and form a partnership with a women’s organisation moving forward to enhance future events and encourage more female attendees. In response instead of reacting with the public shaming anti-feminism card there was also an opportunity to step back look at the comment and question the motivation and his understanding of what being a feminist is and again seek to educate why it is important for female presence and leadership in the space.

If I am anti anything in this world it’s anti-ism. The ism groups in our society like feminism and activism at the core may seek to improve the world, but under their umbrella’s are more factions then an Australian political party and that is why I try as hard as I can to steer clear of labelling myself in those terms. The Startup community is growing, the last thing we need is to start forming factions and polarising each other, step back from comments and critques and look at them without ego, let’s aim to connect and educate as much as we can.

Disrupting is for changing the world, not each other.