Taking on the gender diversity issue

When we look back at 2015, one of the main stories of the year has been the Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial and its impact on the venture community.

Pao may have lost her suit to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but there’s no denying that a wind of change is in the air. Many firms are realizing how woefully non-diverse their staff rosters are. And as the number of female entrepreneurs increases, investors are tuned in to the fact that it helps to have a diverse team on board to help attract and evaluate women-led startups.

As Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners said at VCJ’s Venture Alpha conference at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay in mid-October: “If you have everyone at your firm thinking similarly and looking the same way at the same things, you’re going to miss something. Having a diverse team is one way to make sure we don’t gloss over a deal.”

Scale, by the way, has eight women and seven men in their office, Mitchell pointed out.

This month’s cover story by Mark Boslet takes a look at how a largely male industry is changing. Many VCs acknowledge the need for greater gender diversity and nearly everyone seems eager to hire women partners at the highest level of their investment hierarchies. Whether they know how to do that or whether they follow through has yet to be determined. But it’s interesting to watch how the industry is changing. And for the better.

For the most part, I’ve been a little reluctant to have VCJ cover the gender diversity issue. Not because I disagree with women in VC. On the contrary, I was raised by a working mother and I have four older sisters. I understand and appreciate the strides of women in the workplace and it’s incredulous to me how few women there are in the industry.

But I’ve wanted us to properly frame the discussion. I believe Mark has done so in this issue by simultaneously pointing out how few women there are in the venture community while at the same time underscoring the advantage that diversity brings.

I was reminded of this when I attended the Norwest Venture Partners Female Founder series at the Bluxome Street Winery in San Francisco in early October. The event was attended by more than 100 people, mostly women, who came to hear how women can build strong boards at their companies. Norwest General Partner Sonya Brown moderated the panel, which included executive recruiter Mercedes Chatfield-Taylor, who told the women in the audience that by joining a board, “You’ll be a better operator, you’ll be a better CEO, a better product person, a better entrepreneur because you’ll have exposure to people who are doing it differently and well.”

That kind of advice is spot on, no matter what your gender.

It’s time VC firms got over their deep-seated biases and move toward a better gender balance in their team rosters.

If not, I believe they will find themselves at a disadvantage.

Photo from Shutterstock.