New generation of firms can help close VC gender gap

One of this month’s news stories is a piece from Sarah McBride that previously ran on Reuters News. It’s a must read for anyone in venture or tech, regardless of your gender.

I agree with the overall issue. I’ve heard too many horror stories lately about sexism taking place within various venture firms and against the female entrepreneurs who pitch the firms. That’s sad, considering there are many top-notch female VCs making investments and female entrepreneurs creating innovative startups.

However, I’m skeptical of the story’s use of PitchBook’s 4 percent figure for women in VC. Sure, some firms in the study have zero female GPs or associates. General Catalyst Partners, among others, was blasted for having no females on its GP roster after that study came out. And rightly so.

And I have no doubt that the bad behavior that we’re seeing exhibited by male execs at various tech companies (such as RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and battery charges) is tied to a lack of women in VC and tech. Not that women don’t behave badly, but having more female GPs and board members would certainly help remove the frat boy atmosphere so prevalent at many tech companies and firms today.

My problem with PitchBook’s 4 percent figure is that it looked at fewer than 100 institutional firms, focusing on investors that raised a fund of $200 million or more in the last several years. It didn’t examine syndicates, superangels, individual investors, nor accelerators and incubators, many of which are associated with a number of female advisers and entrepreneurs.

I’m no Pollyanna. The percentage of women in VC is low. But I feel the VC industry is not ignoring this. I hear from male and female VCs about the issue of the declining number of female investors. As VCJ has previously reported, the discussion about diversity, in regards to ethnic and gender, was front-and-center at the NVCA’s annual meeting in May in San Francisco. One VC at the conference told me she’d like to see more study of the numbers and see if we can trace the trends.

Meanwhile, Hunter Walk at Homebrew suggests a tracking mechanism to make sure startups are diverse. Natalia Oberti Noguera requires that those pitching her angel group Pipeline Fellowship include a female co-founder.

I know these and other solutions being bounced around are not scalable industry-wide since VCs are notoriously opposed to compulsory rules and regulations. But my point is that steps are being taken.

There are a few large firms mentioned in Sarah’s article that have zero or just a few women GPs. I could just as easily point to Maria Cirino of .406 Ventures, who is taking up the issue of gender equality. There are others, too, including Rebecca Lynn from Canvas Venture Fund, Maha Ibrahim from Canaan Partners, Katherine Barr at Mohr Davidow Ventures and Sharon Weinbar at Scale Venture Partners, all of whom spoke on a women in VC panel at our Venture Alpha 2014 conference in Half Moon Bay, Califonia, that we did in conjunction with Girls in Tech and Vator to produce Amplify, a half-day event focused on women in tech and VC.

In August, I met with Renata Quintini of Felicis Ventures, which just raised a new fund of under $100 million. So she would not be included in the PItchBook study. Plus, what should give readers hope is that, as we’ve reported, we’re seeing more female GPs launch firms in recent years, such as Cindy Padnos of Illuminate Ventures, Eileen Lee at Cowboy Ventures, Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, and Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw have kicked off Aspect Ventures.

On top of that, the new generation of firms that have launched in the last decade, like 500 Startups, SoftTech VC and Felicis, among others, tend to back a diverse range of entrepreneurs and are themselves composed of diverse teams.

These are small gains when it comes to the big picture. But I’m hopeful that the tide is already turning, albeit slowly.

I invite you, the reader, to also check out the guest column from Baiyin Zhou, an associate at OpenView Venture Partners, who talks about the keys to breaking into the world of VC.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.