When CEOs cry: The Riveter’s Amy Nelson and Elon Musk weigh in on business stress

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Elon Musk and Amy NelsonElon Musk and Amy Nelson
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s emotional interview struck a chord with Amy Nelson, the CEO and co-founder of The Riveter, a venture that created women-centric coworking spaces in Seattle and other locales. (Photos: TED via Youtube; The Riveter)

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk got emotional during a market-moving interview this month, Amy Nelson, CEO and founder of The Riveter, says she can understand the kind of stress he’s under.

“You’ve got a few more years of running a company under your belt, but trust me: I feel your pain,” Nelson, one of the leaders in Seattle’s community of female business founders, wrote last week in an essay posted on Forbes’ website.

The essay addressed a follow-up question sparked by Musk’s candor about the stresses of running a company: Can women CEOs afford to be as candid as Musk was? Nelson’s take: They can’t.

“Female founders must constantly consider how they are perceived in both business and life, which creates a tension that doesn’t allow us to be fully vulnerable or transparent,” Nelson wrote.

She recalled attending a founders’ dinner in Los Angeles where it was just her and 11 men … sitting in on a nearly hourlong conversation about business matters with an angel investor and a business executive without hearing one mention of a woman or the use of the female pronoun … balancing the demands of work and family while getting her flagship female-focused coworking space off the ground in Seattle.

“Like Musk and every other entrepreneur I’ve ever met — I’ve pulled all-nighters, fallen short on taking care of myself physically and missed out on time with my family,” she said. “In addition, I’ve also dealt with these trials and pressures while pregnant and nursing. I remember one pitch where my milk let down during questions on my revenue model. I crossed my arms and hoped for the best in covering a quickly expanding wet spot on my shirt.”

Nelson said she applauded Musk for his authenticity and willingness to open up about the burdens of leadership.

“Nonetheless, I don’t think I could cry in an interview,” she wrote. “I’ll save my tears for the late-night conversations with my friends across the country who are on the same journey, growing their own companies.”

The Forbes essay sparked reactions across the Twitterverse, including from Tijen Onaran, a German tech writer who called it a “must-read and great piece on Elon Musk’s tears.” And it was that reference to tears that sparked a response today from Musk himself:

Check out the latest Week in Geek podcast for more about Amy Nelson and The Riveter, plus perspectives on coworking spaces and virtual offices from Sarah Studer, managing director of Impact Hub Seattle. And check out Musk’s tweetstream for the crazy back-and-forth that today’s comment sparked.



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