I love watching Shark Tank – trying to guess who they’ll make deals with, and what those deals would be. I try to calculate which ones are the better deals and think about what I would choose if I were standing there in front of the sharks. I love to watch the entrepreneurs, too. I can feel their enthusiasm, just as much as I can feel their awkward nervousness.
I caught up on some episodes the other day, and one entrepreneur has stuck with me. She was the very enthusiastic founder of the “ShowNo” towel, which allowed the wearer to change clothes underneath the towel without showing what’s underneath. Clever. She had a great pitch, filled with passion, intelligence, heart. She could prove her market, and capture the imagination of most of the sharks to see an even larger market.
And then Mark Cuban asked her if she had to choose between a business meeting or her kids birthday, which would she choose.
The woman answered beautifully, without missing a beat. She walked a way with a check, a fantastic mentor, and her story ended well. I read in a follow-up interview that she understood the question and was not offended by it.
I understand the question too. I understand Mark was looking to see if this woman had the commitment necessary to take her towels to the next level. I understand that anything less than a “full commitment” is a risk to an investor.
It saddens me that 40 years after Title IX, the career/family question is still viewed a relevant question in the business world to a woman. I can’t help but wonder had this woman’s husband pitched, if Mark would have asked the same question of him.
And as much as we try to create equal opportunity, we still have so far to go. By asking that question, the message delivered is:
If you’re a mother, I don’t think you can be a fundable entrepreneur.
Of course I don’t think this is the message Mark intended to send while vetting his possible investment, especially as a father to girls himself. At least I hope.
As a father, a businessman, and a media personality, Cuban is in a unique position to be a maverick for a changed mindset. He’s in position of power that can stop perpetuating this ceiling for women. Questioning whether one would choose family or work is not a part of the due diligence for a man’s company, nor should it be for a woman’s.
In order to move out of this mindset, we need to focus on finding ways to avoid this “brain drain” in the workforce that happens if women have to make this “or” choice. We need to focus on dialogue and solutions that make it the norm for women to make an “and” choice.
I challenge Mark and others to help make this happen so that in his children’s lifetime they won’t be asked to make this choice. They will just be able to be the person they wanted to be when their parents promised them as children they could “be anything they wanted to be when they grow up”.