Despite gains, gender diversity in VC funding struggled in 2020

People have been discussing the importance of expanding opportunities for women in venture capital and startup entrepreneurship for decades. And for some time it appeared that progress was being made in building a more diverse and equitable environment.

The prospect of more women writing checks was viewed as a positive for female founders, a cohort that has struggled to attract more than a fraction of the funds that their male peers manage. All-female teams have an especially tough time raising capital compared to all-male teams, underscoring the disparity.

Then COVID-19 arrived and scrambled the venture and startup scene, creating a risk-off environment during the end of Q1 and the start of Q2 2020. Following that, the venture world went into overdrive as software sales became a safe harbor in the business world during uncertain economic times. And when it became clear that the vaunted digital transformation of businesses large and small was accelerating, more capital appeared.

But data indicate that the torrent of new capital has not been distributed equally — indeed, some of the progress that female founders made in recent years may have eroded.

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During a time of plenty, many female founders are still going without. The Exchange reached out to a number of American and European investors and founders to get their perspective on how today’s venture market treats female founders.

Recurring among the responses was a general view that more women venture capitalists would help lessen the gender gap in investments, and that VCs became more conservative due to COVID-19 and its constituent economic disruption, reverting to offering capital to repeat founders and their existing networks, both groups that are less diverse than the pool of new founders.

Our collection of founders and investors also said that women have been especially double-tasked during the pandemic to take on more domestic responsibilities in part due to sexist societal expectations, adding that that sexism more generally remains a problem that either isn’t improving or is improving too slowly.

But before we get into the core issues that prevent improvements in gender equity in venture funding, let’s check in on the data from last year and contrast it to its antecedents.

What the data show

While there have already been reports on gender disparities in funding, Nokia-backed VC firm NGP Capital made a great contribution to research on the topic with its 2021 dossier.