Nikkei Business Daily March 30, 2017

A Silicon Valley Headline That Will Not Go Away: Where Are All the Women?

Joanna Drake
General Partner, Core Ventures Group

Silicon Valley considers itself a meritocracy. As we wrote in our last column, the role of immigrants in creating technology companies that drive wholesale market transitions and ultimately massive market values has been remarkable.  Immigrants’ success in Silicon Valley is a testament to an ecosystem open to vision, intelligence, hard work and hustle.

But our meritocracy is also uneven and incomplete, with biases and holes. One persistent failure is in recognizing, supporting and sustaining female leadership. We need to do a better job in recognizing and advancing all forms of diversity.

Despite the fact that women now represent well over 50% of bachelor’s and graduate degree recipients in the U.S., women hold less than 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies (Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Fenwick & West Gender Diversity Study). In the start-up ecosystem in 2016, less than 5% of founders backed by venture capitalists (VC) are women and less than 10% of startup board seats are female held (Source: Pitchbook, theBoardlist).

We have a popular phrase: “money talks.” Perhaps at the root of a lack of support for female leadership in Silicon Valley is the paucity of female venture capitalists driving investment decisions. Less than 5-7% of general partners of leading venture capital firms are women today. (Source: Pitchbook, Techcrunch).
There are many systemic issues that women in the tech ecosystem face:

  • A misperception that women don’t naturally excel in STEM fields
  • Half-hearted recruiting efforts based on an assumption that there are so few qualified female candidates
  • A misguided presumption that female hires need more “work/life” balance and won’t survive the demands of start-up work-around-the-clock cultures
  • Women’s tendency towards humility in interviews vs. management reviews vs. overly confident male counterparts, resulting in fewer hires and less advancement
  • Sexual harassment that affects women’s reputations and advancement, not to mention physical and psychological well being in work environments
  • An overall tendency on the part of predominately male executives and investors to be more comfortable with male colleagues and male dominated company cultures

So many hurdles. But it is critical that we overcome them, in order to take advantage of very real success factors. Why?

  • Teams with more women tend to be more efficient and produce better results (Source: MIT Study on Collective Intelligence)
  • Companies with women on their board of directors have significantly higher average returns on equity than those without women on their boards (Source; Catalyst “Bottom Line”)

There are many efforts in Silicon Valley and across the business landscape to address these systemic issues Several that we at Core Ventures Group are committed to:

  • Broadway Angels: a leading group of all female angel investors with a history of backing a significantly more diverse founder portfolio and many of the leading serial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley
  • theBoardlist: a curated talent marketplace for private tech companies to source highly qualified female board candidates
  • C200: the most prestigious global female executive membership organization formed 35 years ago to advance female CEOs and entrepreneurs.

We believe that female leadership will similarly be a success factor for the emerging Japanese start-up ecosystem, for all the same reasons that we are so committed to advancing all forms of diversity in Silicon Valley. We hope that our struggles can help inform more rapid and effective solutions elsewhere.

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