The Ultimate “Lean In”: Starting Your Own Company


Sheryl Sandberg brings a much-needed voice to the table on female leadership. She speaks from the vantage point of a strong executive who has made her way to the top. Her concept of leaning in and not leaving before you leave is important, but all this comes from an employee’s view.

About four years ago, I co-founded a networking group of 120 female CEOs and founders of technology and life sciences companies called the SheEOs.

Every day, these SheEOs perform the ultimate “Lean In.” Many of us are the breadwinners of our families. We work hard to make payroll for our many employees. We understand with every fiber that those employees come with families that rely on us. We are stewards of capital for hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Do we expect medals and trophies for this act of leaning in?

No, but we would appreciate a slight “tilt in” from the other side. It would be great if Jules Pieri, CEO of Daily Grommet, weren’t asked if she runs her company as a side business from home. Why were half of the top female CEOs I know nudged to use the services of wardrobe consultants so that they “clean up more nicely”? And I would have been thrilled if my pregnancy hadn’t been deemed one investor’s “grand social experiment.”

But because these kinds of obstacles are a daily part of our lives as entrepreneurs, we don’t spend our time complaining. We just lean in further. That means approaching the biases headfirst like a soccer player that scores a goal with a header.

For me, that meant proactively coming up with a five-step plan for my board on how to be back in the office six weeks after delivering my baby. It meant targeting strategic investors because they are more likely to invest in a working product than in alpha-male world domination plans.

It also means that I use my gender to get speaking slots or seats next to the highest-ranking male at a dinner, show baby pictures to get press coverage, etc. As an entrepreneur, I’m clearly not too proud to do that. Because leaning in means bringing everything to the table that I’ve got.

Bettina Hein is the founder and CEO of Pixability, a software company focused on YouTube marketing. She previously co-founded speech software firm SVOX and the SheEOs, a networking group for women CEOs and founders. Follow @bettinahein

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12 responses to “The Ultimate “Lean In”: Starting Your Own Company”

  1. Running my business from home and juggling family commitments, I can tell you that it’s not just women that gain little advantages from tales of the children. Most of the folks I deal with (I’m a lawyer) are quite used to flexible working and I have a lot of female clients and contacts who generally (though not always) respond very enthusiastically do the latest Dad domestic disaster…

  2. Love the last paragraph Bettina.

      • Mark…you are picking on Bettina’s language here…but I think we all agree that men are presumed dominant. We have to work with that until we balance out the equation.

        • Jules…Thanks for your response.

          But help me understand something. Once you run your own organization, why is it important to get seats next to the highest ranking male at a dinner?

          • Running your organization does not automatically confer any special powers. So when a startup CEO is out and about they are always looking to build their network. And the reality is men have the capital, connections and influence that we need. And that has nothing to do with being a female CEO. A male CEO would want to sit next to the most powerful person in the room too. And in 2013 (Just like in 1963) that person is usually a man. Bettina and I can’t change that fast enough…so we work with the reality we confront.

          • OK, I understand better now. As I think about the people I know that are involved in angel or venture investing (as examples of the capital, connections and influence that a start up needs) they are largely male. I can see how any woman seeking angel or venture investment would have to be comfortable in largely male settings.

            In my own patent practice I’ve seen a real upsurge of women coming up with new inventions and starting their own businesses to bring those inventions to market. Their greatest resource at their current stage of business growth is mentoring organizations like SCORE and WBDN. We will have to see how things develop if any grow to the point where they need investor capital.

          • Hey Mark I would like to hear more about what you are observing. Can you email me? jules @

  3. wibi+works says:

    Thanks, I will look out for The SheOS–what a great concept.

  4. Barbara Baumgartner says:

    Hey Bettina, schön mal wieder was von dir zu sehen. Freut mich was ich lese! Go ahead! Viele Grüsse aus der Schweiz, Barbara