Alfalfa and Spanky Would Fit Right In With Today’s VC Firms

If you had to guess, what percentage of the investing partners at the 50 most active U.S. venture firms are female? 10%, 15%, 25%?

It’s just 5%, according to research by Cynthia Padnos at Illuminate Ventures, one of the five female VCs Tom Stein writes about in this month’s cover story for Venture Capital Journal. (Subscribers can read the story here).

Despite that shocking statistic, none of the women Stein spoke with complained about sexism. In fact, Theresia Gouw Ranzetta of Accel Partners says the venture business is actually a breath of fresh air compared to her first job as a design engineer at a large carmaker. She was just one of a handful of women in a building with about 1,000 engineers, and business lunches typically took place at a local strip club. “Nothing fazes me after that,” Ranzetta said.

With all due respect to Ranzetta, I think she’s letting her male colleagues off the hook too easily. In reporting the story, Stein found that female VCs routinely ask themselves questions that never enter the minds of their male counterparts, such as:

* “Will having a child kill my career?
* “Do I need to downplay my femininity,” i.e. wear khakis and a blue shirt instead of a dress?
* And, “Should I avoid investing in startups backed by female entrepreneurs?”

For far too long, the venture business has been the domain of middle-aged white guys. I don’t have anything against white guys—just ask the guys over at Benchmark Capital—but it’s just plain wrong in this day and age that only 5% of the investment partners at the 50 most active VC firms are women. The only explanation for that statistic is that the business is sexist.

The sexism is about as blatant as the “He-Man Woman Haters Club” founded by Spanky and Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” movie shorts from the 1920s.

What do you think?

I’m particularly interested in hearing from female VCs about their personal experiences in the business and what they think needs to be done to break up the old boys’ club.