Not long ago, I sat down with a promising young entrepreneur. She was the complete package: Smart, confident, creative and thoughtful. She's building a really interesting business. Most important of all, this woman has shown an ability to learn from her setbacks - and a determination to push her company forward to the next stage of growth. She was hoping I would invest.
At one point, she leaned in as if to confess a secret. She hesitated. I could tell she was worried about how I would react.
"I just want you to know… I'm pregnant," she said.
I smiled and congratulated her. At the same time, I couldn't help but think about the stigma that would lead this impressive woman to feel such anxiety about my reaction.
I mean… I'm a woman. I started a business while raising four kids. I am as friendly and as understanding an audience as she could hope to find. And yet she was still uneasy - and fearful that I might question her drive and commitment. Imagine how she would have felt in a room full of men.
It's never easy to raise money as an entrepreneur, and it's especially difficult if you're a woman. That is just a fact. Just this week, yet another new report reached a familiar and maddening conclusion. It found that because we as a country put a high priority on funding innovation in the male-dominated tech sector, female entrepreneurs are losing out - even though they lead 50 per cent of all new businesses.
The Bank of Montreal tells us that female entrepreneurs create more jobs than male entrepreneurs. What's more, female-led businesses have higher survival rates than those led by men. But because governments and venture capital firms have such a narrow definition of "innovation," the bulk of the available funding still goes to businesses led by men.
I know this from my own experience over the years. It's one of the main reasons I recently became one of very few women to create and manage a venture capital fund in Canada (District Ventures Capital). I take great pride in having raised close to $35 million. And I look forward to using those resources to support our country's entrepreneurs - women and men.
We have a lot going for us as a country. But we need to do better at solving the systemic problems that undermine a woman's ability to raise funds for her business. And we need to get rid of the tired notion that women can't raise a family and build a company at the same time. The bias is real and we need to get over it.
The woman who came in to pitch me that day… I told her that being pregnant in no way diminishes her talents or her prospects. You can be a parent and a leader. A growing family can be a source of support and inspiration.
Besides, there is no perfect time to start or grow a business. A lot of things need to come together. But when you've got the idea and the opportunity and the passion, there is nothing that can - or should - stop you.