A New Era of Partnership: The Key to Success?

Our new blogger Wendy Tan WhiteWe are absolutely delighted to announce Wendy Tan White as the most recent addition to our community of regular bloggers. Wendy is the co-founder and CEO of Moonfruit, which was recently acquired by Yell group (recently re-branded Hibu) in a deal worth $37m. She is a 500 Startups mentor and was named female UK Tech Entrepreneur of the Year 2011. Welcome onboard Wendy!

Something caught my eye recently: an appearance by someone called Steve Moxon before a Commons select committee as part of an inquiry into women in the workplace. He is the author of a book called “The Women Racket” and that perhaps gives you a clue as to his point of view.

Apparently with a straight face, he told the committee that women were biologically unfit to rise to the top in business.

My favourite quote of his from a report of his appearance was: “There’s no surprise that women have difficulty in the work place, not only do they have difficulty but they don’t want to be there in the first place!”

Some might worry that his views, expressed in the hallowed halls of our legislature, were indicative of a society still struggling to come to terms even with the concept of women succeeding in business. But I take a more optimistic view.

Women are succeeding in business, forging remarkable careers and rising to the top across a varied range of industries. And the view that they should is sufficiently robust and widespread to handle the likes of Mr Moxon.

In the UK at least, the story is looking positive and remains on an upward trajectory. According to government figures, 15.2% of directors of FTSE 100 companies in February 2012 were women (up from 12.5% a year ago). For FTSE 250 companies, 9.6% of directors were women, up from 7.8% a year earlier.

In my world, the world of tech, Microsoft has appointed two female business leaders into senior roles following the departure of Windows 8 boss Steven Sinofsky.

Long-time employee Julie Larson-Green has been promoted to lead Windows software and hardware engineering while CFO Tami Reller will take responsibility for the business side of Windows. 

I’m a big supporter of women of all ages and backgrounds in business, and particularly technology entrepreneurship. Getting school-aged women interested in tech and business has been a focus of mine since we started Moonfruit, and I’m pleased to say that more women are becoming interested in historically male-dominated industries.

Recently I took part in the ‘Silicon Valley comes to the UK’ initiative created by serial entrepreneur and investor Sherry Coutu which brought together entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders from the Valley and the UK to ignite technology entrepreneurship. I was struck by the focus on Ed Tech and solving real world problems with ‘hard’ engineering and science. Eleven £billion+ revenue companies have been created around the Cambridge educational hub. I spoke at the ‘Women in Technology’ panel run by Audrey Mandela, who sold her company Multi-Map to Microsoft and drives the WiTT and Global Board Ready Women initiative, and on a panel at The Perse Girls School in Cambridge. It was certainly a contrast to my keynote a few weeks ago at the FTInnovate conference, the audience being predominantly over 40 and male. I said to the girls in 20 years time it will be them at events like FTInnovate. I was really inspired by the enthusiasm and intelligence of the young women I spoke to but also my fellow panellists, Meghan Smith, VP Google[x], Alice Rajthen, Founder DNA Guide and Mary Lou Jepsen, Founder One Laptop Per Child - all US serial entrepreneurs.

I think also that the prevalence of female consumers is driving the growth of technology and women-led businesses.

At Moonfruit where we provide powerful but simple design-led DIY website builders for small businesses, more than 50% of Moonfruit shops are built by women.

But there is still a need for more tools and resources so women can better understand how they can make ideas happen. This year, Moonfruit was part of the ‘Business in You’ campaign, run by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The campaign provided free services such as workshops, web-based seminars and video tutorials, as well as mentoring and face-to-face consultancy sessions to people interested in starting developing a small business.

One subject that has come up regularly – but  perhaps recently given more oxygen by the appointment of a pregnant Marissa Meyer to head up Yahoo! – is the sometimes fraught topic of women balancing work, motherhood and home life.

Anne Marie Slaughter has argued that there should be an end to ‘the myth of having it all’ and that the focus should be more on allowing women (and men!) to have what they want, when they want it. Hanna Rosin discusses this idea at length in her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, which I recommend as a thought-provoking read. The title is deliberately controversial but I agree with her assertion that we are moving away from the breadwinner or homemaker roles.

My experience of running a business, family and personal life is the strength that comes from the partnership between men and women. I live this everyday with my co-founders  - my husband Joe White and best friend Eirik Pettersen.

I’d like to think we’re in a new era of partnership where women can prove Steve Moxon entirely wrong.

Wendy Tan White is co-founder and CEO of Moonfruit, the UK’s leading DIY website and online shop builder for SMB's to publish on web, mobile and social platforms. Moonfruit was recently acquired by Yell group (recently re-branded Hibu) in a deal worth $37m as an important step in its transformation to a leading global digital services provider and local eMarketplace. Moonfruit was launched in 2000, bootstrapped post the Dotcom crash and innovated raising $2.4m from Stephens (US) and Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups in Sept 2010. She is a 500 Startups mentor, and supports the Astia, Women 2.0 and ChangeTheRatio networks. She was female UK Tech Entrepreneur of the Year 2011. For more info on Wendy, see her profile. 

Click here to read our most recent interview with Wendy.

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