Jun 5, 2015 · 3 minutes

For an industry that can't stop talking about its commitment to diversity, you'd think Silicon Valley would have corrected some of its gender problems by now. Imagine if every time a big tech firm released a diversity report or every time the creators of television's Silicon Valley apologized for their gender biases, a female founder closed a funding round. Come Christmas, the women in tech would easily outnumber the men.

But while the Valley loves to talk about fixing its gender imbalances (not to mention its racial imbalances which are often even more stark and shameful) that's all it wants to do about the problem: Talk. Maybe that's why only 9.7 percent of venture-backed startups were founded by a woman. Even fewer of those firms have a female founder who is also the CEO. And in an unthinkably rare confluence of entrepreneurial attributes, there is a tiny, tiny class of female founders who not only serve as CEO but who have successfully taken their company public.

I can only think of one woman in the history of venture-backed startups who fits that description: Care.com's Sheila Lirio Marcelo. And they call "Snapchat" a unicorn.

It goes without saying that the scarcity of female founders as successful as Marcelo has nothing to do with women's abilities to operate businesses relative to men's. No, as Marcelo's experiences clearly show, the cause of this gender gap is that horrid and archaic nexus of hate and stupidity known as "sexism" -- along with its more virulent, mutated cousin "misogyny."

Over the course of a two-hour interview with Pando's editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy, Marcelo, in a display of startling intimacy and breathless intellect, described the hardships she and many other women face as they ascend to the highest echelons of male-dominated industries. After having her first child, for example, Marcelo was advised to hide the fact that she was a mother. She was told that if her superiors knew she had a young child, they would assume that Marcelo would never be willing or capable of putting in the same hours or showing the same level of commitment as her male peers. (As if to suggest that men are somehow free of responsibility when it comes to taking care of or spending time with their children. What kind of fathers and husbands are these people?)

Moreover, the Philippines-born entrepreneur said that she never encountered these horrifyingly reactionary attitudes before entering the United States.

“I didn’t experience discrimination until I came to this country,” Marcelo told Lacy.

It's bad enough that workplace discrimination deprives victims of well-earned promotions, raises, and sometimes their jobs. There's also a devastating psychological element to discrimination that leaves its mark both at work and at home. This toxic work environment not only threatened to shake Marcelo's confidence on a professional level. In feeling pressured to work twice as hard as her male colleagues just to be treated as an equal, Marcelo also became sick with worry that she was damaging her relationship with her then-toddler son.

"I can’t say I was a great mom," Marcelo admitted to Lacy in an astonishingly candid confession.

But the days of underestimating Marcelo because of her gender -- or anything else, f0r that matter -- are over. In Care.com, Marcelo has built one of the defining software-driven marketplaces of the new digital-analog economy, a platform used by 6.4 million people each month to hire babysitters, pet-sitters, nurses, and other caregivers. And while her entrepreneurial journey is far from over, Marcelo's already accomplished more as an executive, a founder, a teacher, and a parent than any of her early detractors would dream of achieving in twenty lifetimes. And she did it all while enduring and overcoming corporate cultures that are extraordinarily hostile toward working mothers.

Now that Marcelo's her own boss, she's able to draw wisdom from those moments of sorrow and doubt, letting them inform every facet of her business. That includes the mentorship and advice Marcelo generously and passionately offers to her employees -- male and female alike -- whom she seeks to empower as entrepreneurs.

“It would be a huge honor for us to know that numerous companies were built by great entrepreneurs that grew out of Care.com,” Marcelo told Lacy. “I often tell people that we have so many budding CEOs at Care, and I take great pride in that."

But perhaps the most powerful impression Marcelo leaves upon proteges and prospects is her courage -- courage to be authentic, courage to be intense, and -- quite frankly -- courage to be a woman.

"It’s okay to say you’re a woman CEO," Marcelo argues. "We need to be speaking up."

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