'You can't be what you don't see.'
There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to including more women in venture capital, summed up by a collective chorus at a panel of Silicon Valley and Boston venture capitalists at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen on Tuesday.
“Everyone has a role to play, including the press, existing VC firms, and entrepreneurs,” said Megan Quinn, a growth investor at Spark Capital, who was previously a partner at Kleiner Perkins. “I don’t buy the argument that there aren’t enough qualified women to be in venture capital,” she added.
The lack of women who invest in startups in Silicon Valley is an issue that has come to light over the past few years. Fewer than 6% of all decision-makers at U.S. venture capital firms are women, according to data compiled by Fortune, showcasing the glaring gender inequality issues in the investment industry and Silicon Valley as a whole.
Last year, former venture capitalist Ellen Pao pushed the issue into national attention when her gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer Kleiner Perkins went to trial. Pao lost the case, but it cast a light on the male-dominated culture that continues to permeate the venture capital and tech industries.
As for why the lack of women in VC continues to persist, Quinn succinctly said, “You can’t be what you don’t see.”
Ann Miura-Ko, who is a partner at early-stage firm Floodgate and was an early investor in ride sharing giant Lyft, echoed Quinn’s thoughts. Miura-Ko said that at one point, the majority of the small firm was women, and the firm saw an uptick in applications from women.
“Women feel more welcome in firms where they see other women,” Miura-Ko said.”Women tend to question how they will fit into male-dominated firms. They ask, ‘Do I really want to be one of the first females at this firm and am I setting myself up for success.'”
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Fortune‘s senior editor Dan Primack pressed Scott Sandell, managing partner and head of technology at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), on why the global venture capital firm doesn’t have any female general partners.
“Some women take themselves out,” Sandell replied, pointing to two women who were just shy of the general partner investing level who left the firm for personal reasons. Sandell said that the majority of the general partners at the firm are promoted from within and rise from the ranks of an associate to the general partner.
Sandell did admit that while there has not been a conscious bias against women at NEA, but there likely has been an unconscious bias against women at the firm. With this in mind, NEA’s partners are currently going through training to eliminate any unconscious biases that may be in place.
“The problem will sort itself out in time, but we need to pay attention,” Sandell said.