Welcome to She Leads, a series digging into the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a woman in business. In each piece, we’ll chat with a different founder about her experiences, the issues women face in business, and how they’re powering through in the face of adversity.
There’s a lot of talk about female founders, but what happens to their experiences when you throw a man into the mix? Despite how supportive a male-female founding dynamic may be, it’s not always possible to shake the gendered differences in how the partners are received by others.
Chiara Adin is a founder who shares her role with a man — one she truly respects and loves working with. She’s the chief creative officer, and he’s the go-to for all things technical. Together, they founded N/A Collective, an NYC-based experiential marketing firm that works with companies like Twitter, SoundCloud, Casper, Tommy Hilfiger, and Revlon. But when it comes to having certain conversations with the team or presenting to clients, the duo will often strategize who does what, aware they may be received differently.
Adin doesn’t quite see this as a bad thing and is happy to play to her strengths. A positive person by default, she feels society has come far in the last few years and that discussions — like this one — are what’s made it possible.
We chatted with Adin to learn more about her experiences and advice for other female founders:
You have a male co-founder, Aaron Mason. Do you ever find that certain conversations with investors, partners, teams, or clients go differently when led by you versus him?
Yeah, I definitely find that there are really interesting differences. We try to use the fact that one of us is female and the other male to our benefit; for better or worse it works, but it is sad that we know there are certain circumstances where one of is better suited to communicate something.
There are certain instances where a female has the ability to speak more openly, especially with female employees. We don’t necessarily have to be as concerned with tone because generally speaking, we’re fairly calm and level-headed. So I’m able to have some of the more stern conversations with the team, but at the same time, clients sometimes will be more receptive to him because I’m a female sitting in a room with all males. So it really depends, but I think the greatest part about having a male partner is having the ability to play with whichever situation makes the most sense. He’s a wonderful partner and we know and play to our strengths. I haven’t necessarily had any issues with gender in the workplace. It’s more just about playing to the audience, what makes the most sense, and who it’s going to be better received coming from.
This was a topic that got a lot of attention in 2017 when two women entrepreneurs made up a fake third co-founder, Keith, to further avoid discrimination. It worked — replies emailed to Keith were much more timely and respectful. Did you hear about this at the time? What do you think of it?
I didn’t hear about that particularly, but I have a friend, a good friend of mine actually, who created a fake employee as well. She was the sole owner and basically created a Head of Accounting named Stewart. She found that people wouldn’t respond to her request to pay invoices, but they would respond to his, which I think in general is really interesting and really disappointing. Like why would you assume that just because somebody’s name is Stewart that he would be more suited to collect checks? It doesn’t make any sense.
I can understand it given some of the panels and discussions I’ve been a part of and experienced at events like SXSW and others. I definitely believe that happened, and it’s a shame that they would have to create a fake employee or a fake partner just to get their funding. There are definitely circumstances where people unfortunately come up against that wall, but I personally have to say that I would never create a fake employee. I would just be loud and proud of who we are and what we do and who I am as a female.
Even though you haven’t experienced a lot of it yourself, do you feel like some people are still quick to either intentionally or subconsciously see the man as the authority figure?
Not so much anymore, but I definitely think that two years ago, the world was a different place. If anything, we get a lot of interest because we have a female founder. I actually just got a few emails the other day from people hoping we were more than 50 percent female-owned. Unfortunately we’re not, but I think it’s becoming more and more of a positive than it is a negative. But I also think it’s taking all of these discussions and articles to get there. We were not there two years ago, but I think we will get there and that we’re almost there. I mean, maybe not almost, but we’re on the right path.
What advice would you give to other women founders?
I’m not a super cocky person and am sometimes a little uncomfortable talking really proudly about everything that we do, but if you’re not your biggest cheerleader, nobody else will be. You can’t assume that anybody else will be as excited, dedicated, and passionate as you are about your business. And you don’t have to put your blood, sweat, tears and not do anything but work 24 hours a day to get off the ground, but you have to be smart and efficient and make sure that you’re talking about it. You should talk to anyone and everyone you know. Be vocal, talk to people you trust, and do whatever you can to make it a reality.
Have a devil’s advocate to force you to think through your ideas. Find the people you respect who have a proven track record and ask them to mentor you through the process. Hone in on those people, and especially people from different backgrounds or different walks who can give you really well rounded opinions. Don’t be too humble, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t think ‘Oh, I could never do this.’ If you have a brilliant idea, it’s worth at least investigating. But don’t just talk about it—you gotta make some action happen.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sage Lazzaro is a NYC-based journalist covering diversity, inclusion, and social justice across tech, business, and politics. Her work has appeared in Refinery29, VICE, Medium, The New York Observer, and more. Follow her on Twitter here.