Where does confidence come from? When does imposter syndrome go away? And why is the woman’s way of leadership the best bet for our collective future?
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Lama Yammine-Hocks, ex-banker (Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered Bank) and co-founder at Fintech, OPTO, which unlocks cash management automation through AI models. For over 9 years, Lama has been driving results in investment banking, payments digitization, and corporate finance in the Middle East and Europe. She speaks six languages and, aside from being a powerhouse entrepreneur and thought leader, is an incredibly kind and thoughtful human being.
In our conversation, we spoke about confidence, imposter syndrome, the disparity in funding in female-led start-ups, and why the women’s way of leadership must prevail. This is part one of our conversation. Here’s what came up.
Confidence, imposter syndrome, and that pernicious female-led start-up funding gap
I write this as 2023 comes to an end, and while I’d love to wax poetic about how far women have come, the sad truth is that we are still grossly underfunded when it comes to business investment.
Here are some statistics. Women-founded startups raised 1.9% of all VC funds in 2022 (17.2% when the team is mixed-gender). That percentage is a notable drop from the 2.4% all-women teams raised in 2021. This means female-led startups are getting less funding, not more, year over year. What’s going on here? How does this narrative affect our confidence and what we believe we can accomplish in our careers? And why does this matter on a global scale?
“Most of us grew up without role models.” —Lama Yammine-Hocks
She continues, “Especially as women in the entrepreneurship realm, and STEM, and leadership across the board. So it’s not unusual for us to feel like we’re not represented and that we’re odd wherever we are.” I couldn’t agree more.
Because we don’t see more women in leadership, we not only have to overcome the inherent biases in culture but our own internal biases. “Am I smart enough? Can I do this?” This cycle of self-doubt takes a lot of energy to manage, and while I believe it’s 100% possible to go beyond this negative narrative, often the circumstances that allow for this seem out of our control.
“I was never absolutely confident in myself up until I raised my first round of financing.” —Lama Yammine-Hocks
“Before that, I would say I had huge impostor syndrome. I think I’m not the only one. Women really suffer from that,” says Yammine-Hocks. It’s true. More than half of women (54%) feel they have experienced imposter syndrome, compared with just 38% of men. And when our imposter syndrome is combined with inherent bias when it comes to funding, it can feel like the cards are stacked against us.
I asked Yammine-Hocks what she would do to affect the inherent bias preventing female-led businesses access to more funding. She shared three points.
1 // We need government-led initiatives on an EU scale on a general scale.
Just like with government-led green initiatives, governments should incentivize funding female-led businesses with private capital.
2 // We have to showcase women who have built successful startups and tell their stories.
This is how we not only create role models for young aspiring entrepreneurs but also highlight success stories for VCs and investment to see.
3 // We have to support female founders—because female founders support our communities.
How do we know this?
- Female-led startups tend to employ more people, and more women, than male-driven startups.
- Female founders create a more significant impact on the economy and most countries around the world, especially in emerging markets.
- Research shows that female-led businesses generate 35% higher ROI than male-led companies.
- According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, women tend to start businesses out of necessity rather than opportunity.
Said another way, women are more often engaged in the business of solving real-world problems at the community level, thereby strengthening those communities and creating lasting impact. An example of this is Yammine-Hocks’s own OPTO, a fintech startup that tackles an imbalance in the supply chain industry by using AI to provide financial capabilities to trucking companies. Hocks introduces the problem by saying, “95% of trucking companies in Europe have an average of six trucks. They don’t have the banking infrastructure to support them. If trucking companies stopped running for three days, our store shelves would go empty.” This is a probable scenario that Hocks has set out to prevent.
Of course, all for-profit businesses have to make money if they want to survive. But let’s be real. With roughly 30 years left until communities worldwide start to see massive negative impacts of climate change and resource depletion, we have to address systemic problems now. And it’s women who are ideally suited to play a crucial role in creating lasting impact for generations to come because our style of leadership is generally more relational, more cooperative, and more empathetic.
Why the woman’s way of leadership must prevail
“The older I get and the more I see the word, I realize that the woman’s way of doing things, doing business, politics, and so on, must be brought up a bit more,” says Yammine-Hocks.
“I was watching a documentary a few days ago, a beautiful documentary from the 50s about the Israel and Palestine situation. It talked about when men were engaged in war in the region, and the Israeli and Palestinian women started getting together and talking. And when they were very close to signing the closest thing to a peace treaty between the two countries, the men came back from war and said essentially, ‘Go back to the kitchen.’”
“I truly believe that women need to be empowered—not because we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, but because the woman’s way of doing things, de-escalating situations most of the time and just being genuinely caring and empathetic, must prevail in leadership.” —Lama Yammine-Hocks
“I’m a fan of the way women do business, not because they’re women, but because of the female way of looking at things. That’s what I understand about female empowerment. I think it’s important for our future, for our livelihoods, for peace treaties, for the world.”
As I write this, two wars are raging, politicians in the US (men and women) are screaming at each other in lieu of having real conversations about policy, and we continue to wildly deplete our global resources at a rate that outstrips supply.
I continue to interview women of note because I see women playing an important role in the history of our species. When we see women in more positions of leadership, I believe there will be less war, less misunderstanding, and more cooperation so we can solve rather than create more problems.
It’s time for women to “get out of the kitchen”. It’s our time to get on the stage and take the mic. It’s our time to exert our influence so that we can create a more peaceful, prosperous, and kind world. I have never been more convinced that the future is indeed female, and I can’t wait to see what we do with it. How about you?
Watch the full interview with Lama Yammine-Hocks here.
Who are your “women of note”? Drop their names in the comments so I can share their stories, inspire more confidence, and help break the cycle of self-doubt that has held us back for too long. Yallah!
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