VC firms (mistakenly) think CEOs don't care about gender equality

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on July 24, 2013

From The News Desk

Last week I found myself in an unusual situation for a tech reporter: at a table surrounded by ladies. I was at the National Venture Capital Association's "Off the Record" dinner, and wound up sitting with women who work for VC firms. One of them told me that female founders want to be matched with female investors, but there aren’t enough of them to go around. We chatted about it briefly, but "not enough ladies in tech" is a well-trodden topic, and the conversation moved on.

But today, as I paged through a report released by the National Venture Capital Association, I was reminded of it. A surprising stat showed up about gender equality in VC firms, and whether anyone cares. 67 percent of female CEOs said they cared about the gender makeup of their VC firm's partner based, in contrast to the mere 25 percent of CEOs total who said they did.

I initially thought that number proved the previously mentioned theory that female CEOs wish they could work with female investors, to help them navigate the male-dominated tech industry. But Sarah Lacy, my editor and a female CEO who raised money from all male VCs herself, tore that argument to shreds and rightfully so.

It's a bit anti-feminist to assume that female CEOs would prefer to work with female investors. Can you imagine the outcry if a black founder was told he'd likely be more comfortable working with the firm's black partner?

And if there are female CEOs who would prefer to work with female investors, they might want to rethink their business strategy. Otherwise, they may find themselves straggling behind the rest of the startup pack. After all, where does it end? Do you also insist on hiring an all female executive team? All female lawyers? Sell to all female customers? At some point, you're going to have to navigate the regrettably still dominant male business world. If you can't handle it with your investors, should you really be doing this for a living?

But beyond that, startup execs, regardless of their age/gender/race demographic, should want to work with the best VCs they can. By "best" I mean partners with more experience, connections, and pull within the firm to keep backing you in future rounds. Unfortunately, there are way more male VCs who are senior partners at firms than female. If women don't have equal access to those power figures because it's assumed they'd rather work with a female VC, that puts those founders at a disadvantage.

As I hashed out the argument with Sarah, it was clear we had different mentorship needs-- and a lot of that had to do with the time we're each at in our careers. A female founder should have different mentorship needs than a younger woman just starting out in her career as a worker bee in a male dominated industry.

For instance, I am hungry for advice on how to rebuff romantic advances in a professional setting, or assert myself without making enemies. But worries like these shouldn't be top of mind for a founder -- female or no. She is focused on navigating how to put together profit forecasts or how to hire the right people. She will need the experienced executives and investors who can help them find their way with company building, and those executives won't necessarily be women.

Of course 67 percent of female founders say the gender make up of a venture firm matters. I don't know a single woman who doesn't care -- on some level-- that male-dominated industries become more equal. But that doesn't mean they want their own boards to reflect that diversity.

If VCs listen up this argument may be moot ten years from now. This industry moves fast and women entering firms now may well be the rainmakers of the industry that every founder--male or female-- wants to take money from.