Laura Behrens Wu, Chief Executive Officer at Shippo, a shipping and data company, voiced a sobering concern: Are female venture capitalists harder on female founders than their male counterparts?
In a Bloomberg article in May, Behrens, who founded her company roughly three years ago, says that female venture capitalists are harder on female founders, claiming, “They do harder due diligence, making sure they're not going to embarrass themselves."
Behrens added: “Maybe they have a chip on their shoulders?" She clearly empathizes with women venture capitalists, understanding firsthand what it's like to feel like they must constantly prove themselves.
The bulk of her investors were male, supplying $7 million from Jeff Clavier at SoftTech VC and Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures. She's also quick to note that while she has some money from female VCs, they're from the earlier seed stage, when investors typically offer smaller dollar amounts, with minimal commitment.
A new Bloomberg analysis shows that this isn't quite accurate, at least from the top 17 venture firms. Those with senior women partners backed companies founded or co-founded by women at roughly the same rate as firms with no senior female partners.
The group of 17 top-ranked venture firms is based on $1 billion-plus public offerings or acquisitions over the last five years for U.S.-based portfolio companies invested in at early stages, according to data provided by CB Insights.
The traditional school of thought had been that the lack of funding for women at Silicon Valley was largely due to a lack of female VCs, which would be concerning because of a lack of equality. This would mean a lack of diversity, which could lead to companies losing out on attracting the best entrepreneurs and businesses.
Some of the most female-founder-friendly firms have no senior female partners, and in some cases, no female partners at all. When adjusted to compare the numbers of women co-founders to the number of senior partners at any given firm, Felicis, Lowercase, Index Ventures and First Round Capital had the highest proportion of support for women founders. None of these have senior women investing partners, although Felicis Ventures employed one – Renata Quintini, until she departed for Lux Capital earlier this year.
It should be noted, however, that adding female partners to venture firms has not resulted in an increase in funding for female-founded startups, according to a report published this week (June 1, 2017). The top 10 private companies founded or co-founded by women have not raised any money from a female VC in its Series A or Series B rounds. The analysis found that the top firms with all-male senior investing partners backed proportionately more women-founded startups.
The firms with the most investments in companies with female founders were New Enterprise Associates, Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), and Sequoia Capital. All but 16Z have at least one senior female-investing partner.
Firms with no senior female-investing partners who back proportionately more female founders were: Felicis Ventures, Lowercase Capital, Index Ventures and First Round Capital. Again, Felicis had a female investor on its team until earlier this year.
Although many venture firms are working to increase diversity, many have said that their efforts are not necessarily about increasing diversity of the founders. They do acknowledge that ultimately, more diversity among decision-makers brings better results.
Jess Lee, the former CEO and co-founder of the online fashion startup Polyvore, said that her gender gives her a competitive advantage. “I have an advantage in understanding the female consumer," Lee claims. She joined Sequoia Capital as the first U.S.-based female investment partner in the firm's 44-year history.
Sequoia had been trying to convince Lee to join since 2012, before she sold her Mountain View-based shopping site for fashion and home decor to Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) for $230 million in 2015.
Sequoia has been one of the most successful venture firms in the world, backing a number of tech mainstays such as Apple, Google, Oracle, YouTube, PayPal and Yahoo in their early days. More recent hits include WhatsApp and Stripe.
Lee, 34, is its 11th partner and one of the youngest with the firm. Although Sequoia has had five female investors with its funds in India and China, Lee is the first U.S.-based female investor. A lack of diversity has been a growing concern in the VC industry, reaching its apex with Ellen Pao's unsuccessful bias suit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2015.
PitchBook Data estimates that just six percent of the senior investors at VC firms were women in 2016, up incrementally from the five percent in 2010.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.