Alyson Watson is the founder and CEO of Modern Health, the mental wellness platform that combines well-being assessments, personalized stress management support, an international network of certified coaches, and licensed therapists in over 60 countries who can speak over 50 languages.
$2,500. That was the number on Abby Wambach’s first paycheck playing for the US soccer team, and she felt like the richest person in the world, even though it was 40% less than the check her male counterparts received. When discussing this at Elevate, Modern’s Health’s annual event, Abby told me that she believes women have inherited a deep need to feel grateful for whatever we have because of all the women before us who had it worse. It’s the mental toll of a historic glass ceiling—with each step forward, women fight an internal voice that says we should be grateful for the progress.
We can’t look at the pay gap in a silo and wonder why we face this challenge. Female business leaders are facing hurdles every step of the way. Based on my calculations from the latest trends from Pitchbook, we’re nearly 50 years away from gender parity when it comes to VC funding.
In 2021, companies founded solely by women garnered a mere 2% of dollars invested in VC-backed startups in the US. If the current year-over-year growth rate continues as it did last year, it will be 2069 when entirely female-founded teams reach parity when it comes to VC funding with teams led by their male counterparts. By creating this bottleneck, we are undoubtedly restricting the number of female leaders, which in turn, perpetuates the gender pay gap.
As a society, we need to implement intentional processes to equalize gender representation and pay.
Fighting imposter syndrome
We must fight the psychological barriers that women instinctively face. As Abby Wambach alluded to, women are taught to feel a sense of gratitude for any progress, and research proves gender stereotypes create a lack of confidence, assertiveness, and resilience in the business setting.
Working with a coach can be an effective way for female leaders to eliminate this external conditioning. Throughout my career, I have worked with both a therapist and a coach who helped me push through stereotypes and boundaries. Working with a coach can be an effective way for female leaders to reduce the impact of this external conditioning. Throughout my career, I have worked with both a therapist and a coach, who have helped me push through stereotypes and boundaries.
According to Dr. Julia Corcoran, our director of clinical strategy & experience, working with a coach can often help people challenge thinking traps. For example, coaches can role-play a difficult conversation to help the person prepare for it. Coaches can also help identify the locus of control and the parameters of influence.
For those not able to make the investment in a coach or therapist, there are free options available. A conversation with a trusted friend or mentor, making a list of key contributions and career milestones, and finding avenues to share these more explicitly with your supervisor and other leaders will all help increase confidence..
Another tool I’ve leveraged is mindfulness through meditation. Through meditation, I’ve learned how to breathe and listen to my thoughts, including the self-defeating ones, and sit with them - it’s truly been life-changing. Naomi Osaka, Modern Health’s chief community health advocate, has introduced several available meditations: reframing negative self-talk and resetting your mind.
Women in leadership (and as mentors)
We need to encourage more female entrepreneurs to enter the business world. If we can have more women in the room when it comes to VC funding, we will see more female entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Research shows only about 12% of VC decision-makers are women, but when these women make decisions, they’re twice as likely to invest in female-founded startups.
This is a fast track to breaking the cycle because women-run businesses tend to hire more women. Because women account for approximately 50% of the world’s population, organizations, employers, and VC firms need to implement intentional processes to equalize gender representation.
We as women can also pay it forward and support each other in more tangible ways. I’ve been lucky to meet role models who have inspired and mentored me throughout their careers. And as I’ve been fortunate to grow in my career, I’ve looked for ways to mentor other female entrepreneurs to support the next generation of female leaders.