Last week I sent out a post on Twitter reporting the miserable experience of a friend of mine, a female entrepreneur, who had been out fundraising. She was meeting with a central-casting type venture capitalist, approximate age 35, who told her that she had “built a nice little business” so why didn’t she just sell it “and go home and raise her kids?!”
Naturally, my friend was thoroughly offended. She politely deflected by saying something like “for the same reason you are not home with your kids,” but I know she was seeing red. It is hard enough to be an entrepreneur, and especially hard to raise money, without being treated like a cute little wifey. What freaking nerve.
The sad, but not surprising thing was that it happened. This kind of misogynistic stuff goes on every day in Silicon Valley and we have all read enough about it to fill a library, not just a bookshelf. The surprising and encouraging thing was the response I got to the tweet itself. I got numerous emails and calls from people, mostly men, saying they were outraged. I got numerous demands to reveal the name of the loser who made the offending comments so people would know whom to avoid (fyi, I declined this since it wasn’t my name to reveal). I got a substantial amount of positive feedback from male VCs who were themselves horrified at the gaucheness of their fellow investor.
I have written a lot about the plight of women in both the venture capital (VC) and entrepreneurial field over the years, but this was the first time that the wave of solidarity came mostly from men (women are just exhausted from the topic). And it gave me hope. I have no illusion that we will suddenly see an improvement in the plight of women in my orbit, but there are occasional signs that things could get better.
The NVCA is making active attempts to promote VC diversity (hopefully no longer defined as white guys with BMWs, not just Teslas). Studies continue to be published showing the value (in terms of better profits and higher investment returns) of a diverse workforce and board, defined as reflecting a mix of gender, age, and ethnicity. I tell you, if your sole job description is to turn a chunk of money into a bigger chunk of money, you should take advantage of every opportunity to do it. If you can achieve this by also making positive contributions to society, you have to be kind of an idiot to avoid it on purpose. Some people never learn.
It’s an interesting time for women. In the VC world, many have thrown up their hands and just started their own firms. The bad news is that is evidence of the impenetrability of the not-so-old boys club that is the VC world. On the other hand, if women are successfully raising their own funds, it is hopefully a leading indicator that at least the investors in funds get it. It’s not a perfect solution, but women aren’t going to sit on the sidelines when they have something to contribute. So there.
And yet in other fields we are seeing some evidence that maybe the male-only bastions are beginning to succumb to reason. I was watching a pre-season 49ers game and saw a female ref wearing the traditional zebra suit (I nearly fainted). Over in the NBA, both the Kings and the Spurs have hired female assistant coaches. San Francisco has a female police chief as do about 200 other U.S locales (combo of chiefs and sheriffs). About 20% of the people elected to our U.S. Congress are women (20 Senators, 84 Congresswomen). The rise in women elected to the U.S. Senate forced that old male organization to expand the ladies’s room to accommodate the influx of women. Now that’s progress.
Of course, in perspective none of these numbers are that impressive. Women comprise about 51% of the U.S. population so they should represent about 51% of the jobs in any field they wish to populate. But 20% is a hell of a start and it beats the hell out of the 6% of partner jobs held by women at U.S. VC firms. A few firms have made significant progress, among them GE Ventures, Canaan Partners, Scale Venture Partners (see recent SF Chronicle article on this topic), all of which have recognized the value of women in partner roles and also as backable entrepreneurs. I love that Shark Tank, a great show if you are into pop culture venture capital, has two women on the investor panel; one of the male investors on the show, Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary), recently commented that all of the companies in his 27-company portfolio that are making positive returns are led by women. Not 20%, not 51%, but 100%. Of the companies he has backed, 55% are led by women.
So to my friend who met the VC from the 1950’s, even though he wasn’t born then: don’t lose faith. While slow, the world is headed towards you. I know it’s not fast enough. I know there are still misogynistic morons out there who apparently forget that they would want their own wives, mothers, daughters, sisters treated with respect and that they themselves, as dads, should also be participants in the raising of their own children. But in the end, money talks and bullshit walks. As evidence continues to pile up about the returns produced by female entrepreneurs and investors, you will win out. It’s really hard to have the patience to be the tortoise, but those that remember their VC job descriptions will notice that she kicks the hare’s butt all too regularly. Hang in there, girlfriend.