VCs in the land of the redwoods need to stand taller and address gender inequality


The VC industry has come under scrutiny recently as several
stories of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior toward
women have emerged.

This behavior is unacceptable in every possible way. 
However, to truly address this problem, we have to acknowledge
the larger issue of gender bias within our culture, which
unfortunately is often conscious, deliberate, and systematic.
It sickens me and it needs to end. And ending it also needs a
conscious, deliberate, and systematic effort.

While I applaud some early  efforts to address this issue
(including Reid Hoffman’s decency pledge), we can do
better.  Our goal shouldn’t be to simply  prevent
creeps from unfairly using the power imbalance between founders
and investors.

Over 400 thousand protestors participated in the NYC Women’s
March on Jan. 21, 2017 in resistance to US President Donald
Trump. (Photo: Brit Worgan/Getty Images)

We need to honestly reflect upon what we know empirically to be
true about our industry – we lack women investors, we don’t
invest enough in women entrepreneurs, and within our
portfolios, specifically for technology companies, we have a
problem when it comes to hiring, promoting, and paying women
equally.

The decency pledge is a bare minimum; it equates to being the
tallest bonsai, and in the land of Redwoods, that’s not enough.
We should be pledging to stand tall and create a supportive and
equal environment for women.

As a venture community we have the opportunity and, in fact,
the obligation to be better.  As leaders we need to be
introspective and to always be evolving. As the group funding
the next round of companies, we need to be conscious of how we
lead and what message we’re sending to the next generation of
workers.

We have to be deliberate and systematic in our effort to CHANGE
how things are today. We all want to be better in everything we
are doing – and addressing the gender imbalance should be no
different.

And to that point, you should be able to ask ANY VC what they
are doing about it, and they should have an answer. Because we
KNOW this is a problem, and if you aren’t trying to correct it,
then you are conscious in your decision to leave things as they
are.

View of signs left on the ground after the Women’s March on
Washington, Washington DC, January 21, 2017. (Photo by
Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

There isn’t one answer to how to solve this. So rather than say
you need to hire a woman, or invest in a female founder, which
you should do, but might take some time…I would like to suggest
something that you can do today.

  1. As GPs and Managing Directors, you need to start the
    conversation. Put it on the next team meeting agenda and make
    sure it happens. Just like at portfolio companies, change needs
    to start at the top. The firm’s leadership need to be bought
    in. Make finding gender balance within your teams, deal flow,
    and portfolio a priority and it will happen – don’t leave this
    as a side project.
  2. Watch
    Google’s Unconscious Bias @ Work
    as a team (it’s worth
    spending some time on the site in general). There are several
    important takeaways, but for me the following two
    resonate:  you have to create the opportunity to safely
    call people out on bias and you need to be measuring
    something you want to change. Addressing bias in colleagues
    can difficult. Bringing it to someone’s attention can create
    an uncomfortable dynamic, but  if you’re committed as a
    team to consciously trying to identify and correct the issue,
    it can make the conversation much easier.
  3. With regard to measurement, tracking dealflow is the first
    step. I recommend retroactively going back through your deal
    flow and measuring the percentage of deals you’ve had with
    women founders or co-founders. This is an easy metric to
    immediately influence if you wanted. For example, Crunchbase
    let’s you filter companies by founders with women.  The
    next step is to set goals and hold yourself accountable.
  4. When you have a woman entrepreneur pitching, remind the
    team of the potential for unconscious bias to enter the
    conversation – the Google video has some great studies within
    it and there are new studies all the time that can be applied
    to VC. The most recent
    Harvard Business Review article
    is directly applicable,
    and highlights how while pitching male entrepreneurs get
    asked promotion type questions while female entrepreneurs get
    asked prevention type questions.  And this line of
    questioning shapes the impression of the
    opportunity.   Review your  notes and
    questions and look for unconscious bias.  Make sure
    there are a few standard promotion questions that you ask
    every entrepreneur so that you get a comparable picture.
  5. If raising the bias conversation isn’t happening naturally,
    designate a team member to play that role in team debriefs,
    even rotating that person. Similar to the concept of a
    designated devil’s advocate, this can help ease the transition
    to making these conversations part of the everyday dialogue.

For those looking for other ideas on what they can do to
proactively address this problem, I find that the work of
Project Include,  LeanIn.org, and Adam Grant all provide
good starting points.  As a community, I hope we can put
these resources and actions into place — when it comes to
gender bias, we can stand taller and we can do better!


Featured Image: dee-jay/iStock

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