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There's No Crying in Startups!

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/21/2011

Listen, it's no secret that business startups are emotionally charged and stressful at times. A bad team can create undo stress, and it can lead to a failed startup attempt. Recently, the assertion was made that startups should only be all male or all female teams in order to prevent problems.

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    The argument posed by Penelope Trunk is that startups are overwhelming and emotionally charged stages of a company's life. She makes the distinction between merely growing a "lifestyle business" and undertaking a startup. Then she notes that women are often unwilling to run startups—because they have to put in long hours, and there is a lot of risk involved in the process. They might even cry.

    Adding men to the equation, Trunk says, creates more problems. The woman is likely to be more distracted, and—gasp—people might think you and your business partner are a couple. Plus, women might cry in front of the men, and the men might throw a fit. In fact, she goes so far to say, "Most women cry at work. And most guys throw a fit."

    In addition, the problems that might be caused by having a man on your team (if you're a man, the problems of having a woman) are compounded by throwing diversity into the mix. Diversity is bad, according to Trunk because, well, there are more ideas in the fire, more ways of getting things done, and more "reality checks." That can seem pretty heavy-handed, but she's arguing that for a startup to be successful there has to be a considerable amount of focus.

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    Most Women Cry...?

    Call me crazy, but if most women cry in the workplace (and most men throw fits), then I must not have had real jobs. I've never seen a man throw a fit in a professional situation, and women crying is something that I've seen once in the 18 years I've been in the workforce. I have seen women throw a fit and men cry. But to say "most" seems like an over-generalization. I'd like to know the statistics on this.

    And why does having a man there make a woman more likely to cry or a man more likely to throw a fit? It would seem as though—man or woman—if someone is prone to emotional outbursts, it won't matter who is on the team with them.

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    The Distraction Factor

    Sure, you might get distracted by the guy you're working with—if you're attracted to him. But by that token, it would seem as though Trunk would have to also say that lesbians ought not work on a team with women and gay men should not be on a team with men. That would contradict her initial argument, though.

    One could argue that it's gender and not sex that creates the distraction. This distinction means little in this conversation. In fact, it could further complicate things. What about the woman who identifies herself as a male gender role. Which team would she go on? The team that meets the anatomy requirements or the team that meets the personality requirements?

    Also, distraction could happen in a team of women or men who do not get along together. In fact, it would seem as though there is a greater potential for distraction in this scenario than there is in the different sexes scenario. Like it or not, I've found women to be quite competitive with one another. There's a lot of drama that goes on in certain combinations of women.

    Likewise there's a lot of drama with groups of men. Have you watched shows like Apprentice, America's Next Top Model or Project Runway? Sure, some of that's just for the television crew, but I bet a good number of competitors would have done much better if they did not have distractions brought about by competing with others on the show.

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    Diversity Slowing People Down?

    Trunk also made the claim that diversity slows the startup down—because people are too creative, there are too many different ways of doing thing and because of "reality checks." There are three points I'd like to use to argue against this premise. First, it would seem as though startups are where you want people to say it's not working. If something isn't going to work, and someone notices that you are having a difficult time with executing a certain component of your startup, he or she might present a better solution. I don't see that as a bad thing. Reality checks are good things!

    Second, I don't think the problem is diversity, but it might be a symptom of having "too many cooks in the kitchen" and allowing scope creep to take over your startup. Perhaps instead of limiting diversity on your team, what really needs to happen is you limit the number of people on the team and limit the number of times you change the project scope.

    Third, a recent scientific article discussed the benefits—not deficits—of having women on a team. The study showed that while on the whole, the average intelligence of the members of a group had little effect on the intelligence of the group, when women were added to the group, the group intelligence would rise. It would seem, then, that cutting out a gender from your startup may, in fact, stunt your startup's potential growth.

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    What Makes a Good Startup Team?

    What makes for a good startup team great is the cast of people who are driving the startup. Your startup will fail—no matter who makes up your team—if your team doesn't get along, if people don't carry their weight or if you have emotional outbursts all over the place. This is business, and it's high-stakes business. There's no place for those who are not truly motivated and driven.

    Startups are tough! You have to get good momentum going before the launch. Whether your team is diverse or not won't matter. Whether your team can keep it together when the going gets tough will. Here's a key bit of advice: Don't create a startup with someone you cannot work with! Stick to your guns on that. I don't care how lucrative the idea seems, or what the history you have with that individual is. If you can't work together on simple things, there will be no way you can work together on something as complex and charged as a startup.