Ah, that perennial issue — women in tech. Solving it is so intractable and talking about it can be thankless because readers get emotional without arriving at pragmatic solutions.
It requires multiple layers of intervention all the way on up from the toys and cultural icons we present to young girls, through encouraging computer science education in high school and on up through pressuring the industry leadership to bring more women onto company boards and into VC firms.
The issue came up again on a panel this morning at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York where Leena Rao asked top-tier investors from firms like Sequoia and Greylock about how to bring on more women into venture capital.
There were four firms on the panel. Greylock, a top-tier fund that backed Facebook and LinkedIn, has one female associate, but no more senior female investment partners. Sequoia, one of the most storied firms in the Valley, similarly has no female investment partners, but it does have female partners on its services team heading up events, marketing and human resources. Spark Capital has a female director of community, but its general partners are male.
Then there was Shana Fisher, who started her own firm called High Line Venture Partners. Fisher, who has backed Pinterest, Makerbot, Vine, and Refinery29, said that before she started High Line, she did have conversations with established firms. But her profile didn’t match what they were looking for, so she started her own firm instead. Fisher came out of IAC and Allen & Company where she handled high-profile acquisitions like the $2 billion deal to buy AskJeeves.com.
“People were looking for a certain kind of person which I don’t think I am,” she said. “Firms need to broaden their mind about what the right kind of person looks like. You need to consider people with really rich and varied backgrounds to get more women into the tech industry.”
Both Alfred Lin, who joined Sequoia Capital after overseeing Zappos as COO, and Greylock’s John Lilly, who joined the firm after heading Mozilla, said they needed to do more. But it was hard for them to offer specifics beyond saying that the pipeline of women with a mix of entrepreneurial or operational experience and a technical background was not big enough. Lin said to stay tuned for something on Sequoia’s front.
“We need to recognize that the landscape is so unfair in such an invisible way,” said Lilly, who pointed to this really interesting post that DFJ venture capitalist Heidi Rozen wrote about her multi-decade career in the industry. (It’s definitely worth reading. Some of the anecdotes about how she was sexually harassed are shocking.)
SV Angel, which also came on-stage in a separate panel, also had a tough time answering questions about the gender balance after being grilled by Josh Constine.
All the wrong ratios, and no good answers.