Catalyze Seattle

Gender & Startup Culture

Gender & Startup Culture

Survey results indicate that feeling out of place or discriminated against due to male-dominated culture is a significant contributor to lower numbers of women in startups.   



Startup events more inclusive to men

51% of men acknowledged that their gender helps them fit in at startup events. 18% were neutral, while 30% stated their gender did not help them fit in.  

Women expressed a very different experience. Only 8% said being a woman helped them feel included, while 32% were neutral, and 60% said their gender did not help them fit in. 


“I have been left out of events with my colleagues because I was the only female, despite being a member of the leadership team.”


“When I go to networking events, it is more common that I get asked on a date than to something professional. It feels like I am viewed more quickly as a romantic interest than I am a professional colleague. I can't "be one of the guys" (nor do I want to).”



Multiple respondents quoted feeling excluded due to “old boys club,” “bro culture” “fraternity culture,” and “closed group network.” As one person put it, “I have witnessed the male support network first hand and I was excluded from that.”





Both female and male respondents widely acknowledge that men have more opportunities to advance in Seattle startups. 

Men were also more likely to report feeling more trusted at work due to their gender, and that their gender will make it easier for them to succeed in the future. Women were more likely to report the opposite.  



“After some meetings, they would go for happy hour or dinner and I would not be included. While I got along with them at the office, I did not fit into their boy's club outside of the office. This caused me to miss out on opportunities to further build relationships.” 


“I have been in meetings where the executive leadership has indicated that adding a woman to the senior leadership ranks is ‘often just a diversity ploy and we should be careful to ensure that they are actually qualified.’”


“People tend to hire individuals that ‘fit in the culture of the company.’ Which usually means somebody similar to the people in the company, i.e. white males.”





Majority of respondents believe that entrepreneurship in Seattle is not a meritocracy. 

Survey-takers were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Entrepreneurship is a meritocracy. Anyone who works hard enough can succeed.” 

58% of all respondents stated they do not believe entrepreneurship is a meritocracy. 8% were neutral, and 34% stated they do believe entrepreneurship is a meritocracy. This differed slightly by gender, as you can see in the charts below. 


With regards to race and ethnicity, People of Color were more likely to believe that entrepreneurship is a meritocracy (39%) than White respondents (31%), though the majority of both groups believed it is not a meritocracy (54% and 61%, respectively). 



“Death by a thousand paper cuts”

In qualitative fields, women and people of color expressed feeling exhausted from daily micro-aggressions they face, but found it tough to find one big moment to call out. Incidences such as harassment, being regularly mistaken as lower-level staff, being disproportionately asked to do office “housework,” not being taken seriously, being spoken over, and having their competency regularly questioned—especially during technical tasks—were all cited multiple times.  


“I experienced sexism as more of death by a thousand paper cuts than any one big incident. I was often given a lot of "housekeeping" office manager tasks that I wasn't hired to do, I was interrupted by my own colleagues, was occasionally left out of important meetings, and my ideas on increasing gender representation at the work place were listened to, but not taken very seriously.”

Strong themes in the qualitative feedback include:


Tightrope Bias

Originally coined by Joan C. Williams of the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies at Stanford University, the “tightrope bias” means that “high status jobs are seen as requiring stereotypically masculine qualities, while women are expected to be modest and self-effacing, so women must walk a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be effective and too masculine to be likeable.” This was an exceptionally strong theme in the anecdotal responses, hinting that this bias may perpetuate not only high-level jobs, but at all levels of jobs in Seattle startups. For example: 

“Men being scrappy (sending multiple follow up emails, being aggressive in meetings, being aggressive in negotiations, networking over drinks with men and women) is seen in a different light than women.” 


“Leadership behaviors I have that are celebrated in male colleagues are seen as inappropriate for a woman.”


“The industry has been geared to them, so success is based off of male-dominated attributions (such as, a male who is direct is going for what he wants, whereas a female who is direct is bossy/bitchy).”


“I have been told in conversations with senior men when talking about advancement to be less "gregarious" - I don't think a man would ever be told that -- to hold back part of what makes him 'him' in order to get ahead.”


“The CEO told me he only hired me because of my looks and made advances at me. Because I was new and young and there was not a trusted HR department I could go to, I coped with it by avoiding my CEO altogether.”


“The CFO once tried to kiss me at work happy hour.”


“Rape jokes.”

Unconscious Bias

“I have had people assume I am the intern, had my own colleagues interrupt me and had people speak slower & try to "explain" things to me when I was the only woman and POC (person of color) in the room.”


“A woman says something in a meeting and it's ignored until a man says the same thing. Women get talked over constantly […] People constantly assume I'm dumber and less competent than I am. And it's worse for my coworkers of color. (Especially the women.)”


“I'm looked over constantly, second-guessed, and people assume I have no technical skills.”

Unequal distribution of “office housework”


“Assumptions that I will do the admin work in the meetings.”


“I am constantly asked to do the busy work and people assume that I can clean up all the ‘messes.’”


“Senior executives who are women being asked to place the lunch orders/make meeting arrangements for meetings when male leaders are not.”