This summer, scores of Silicon Valley’s elite will gather in Sun Valley, Idaho, for what has become known as “Billionaire Summer Camp.” Dozens of planes will be parked at the airport. Packs of press circle the resorts. And an army of staff to handle every possible request.
Noticeably absent, at least from the conference, are many women. Yes, many wives and girlfriends will be seen during social events. But the truth is that women are still almost non-existent in the upper echelons of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. For industries that pride themselves on innovation, there’s still an old boys’ club to some extent.
Bros and Boys Club
Consider, for example, that less than three percent of companies are owned by women are financed by venture funds. Added to this is the fact that minority female founders receive less than one percent of all venture capital investments. In other words, “bros” take up the vast majority of the fuel needed to launch the next Google or AirBnB. Not only do we need more diverse leadership from women at the highest levels in both technology and finance, but men also need to lead and be the voice to offer opportunities to women.
As a woman, entrepreneur, and investor, I have a broad perspective on the disparity in funding opportunities. While access to funding is the gateway to success, funding for diverse founders remains limited. Investing in diverse talent is key to unlocking innovation, improving underserved communities, and fostering long-term economic success. During the pandemic, women, who already face unique challenges, disproportionately dropped out of the labor force.
Disproportionate funding and resources
There are huge disparities in access to funding and resources for women entrepreneurs seeking venture capital (VC) funding. Venture capital is a stepping stone to an initial public offering (IPO). The industry needs to understand that funding more women is a win-win. The math is simple. Consider, for example, that The student body at MIT is now roughly split between men and women. By overwhelmingly funding male-led companies, VCs default to more highly qualified women and virtually ignore nearly half of top talent. To continue progress, we must call on the boys’ club to use its voice, platform, and resources to invest in women not only financially, but as mentors and team members.
Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Sheryl Sandberg of Meta (formerly Facebook) and Jane Frazier of Citi were all disappointments, and many others broke with decades of “old boys’ club” tradition. Now the club must destroy itself or risk being disrupted by more women-friendly countries. Consider that Asia now leads the way in funding women; as a result, they reap rewards that no one thought possible. As of last year, China was home to two-thirds of the world’s billionaires, most homemade. There’s simply no excuse for the world’s second-largest economy producing four times as many female billionaires as the United States.
The value of diversity
We can start with more diverse talent at the highest level. Companies with women on their boards of directors are statistically more profitable than many of their competitors because decisions made by women from the top down have a significant impact on those who buy the company. Having a female or multiple executives on the executive team, investing in female entrepreneurs, offering leadership roles to women, and taking leadership roles to help women thrive are all vital to progressively changing the scope of future growth in technology , finance and other industries.
It’s not about replacing opportunities for men, it’s about developing spaces and opportunities for new ideas from those who have had different experiences than some men. Women are born leaders and born networkers. We intuitively understand the importance of relationships. One of my top pieces of advice for founders is to connect personally with the person across the table. Make it clear why they were chosen as a potential funder. This month, Jane Fraser, who last year became Citi’s first female senior director, echoed that sentiment during her formal speech at New York University’s Stern School of Business. She told the graduates about the imaginary “Electronic School”, where the “E” stands for empathy. Fraser pointed out that empathy is an incredibly important skill for any business person, and one that women possess in large numbers.
Pooling talent and resources
As a female and cross-cultural investor, my craft has evolved into making meaningful connections with investors and entrepreneurs, many, if not most, of whom are men. I have found that what a woman founder sometimes lacks is not brains and empathy, but confidence that their value will be recognized and that their empathy will be reciprocated. With the growth of e-commerce and shopping for beauty, fashion, and many lifestyle industries, where women typically shop more than men statistically, investing in women and having women on investor teams creates new areas for growth and investment: that means more money.
We women need to lift each other up in roles for growth and development, and our male counterparts need to be part of this change as well.
Every man in tech should ask himself, “Do I look at women differently than I look at men? Do I value empathy and intelligence over aggressiveness? How do I reciprocate?” Of course, we are always more comfortable with people who think and act like us. But technology is about thinking differently and challenging traditional paradigms – in other words, disruption. And from where I sit, it’s clear that the biggest opportunity in tech is: women.
This guest post is by Diane Yu
Diane Yu is a results-driven entrepreneur and venture capitalist with over 15 years of experience. As an accredited investor, she has invested in 35+ companies with a focus on diverse founders. She is one of the 1% of Asian American female founders who are also partners. Diane founded angel networks, venture capital funds and investment networks. She is a founding partner of a Medtech and Healthtech venture capital firm in partnership with the largest medical center in the world. With venture capital and accelerator experience, she is actively involved with more than 700 companies worldwide, and her firm has invested significant capital in the startup ecosystem.
She is now one of the few Asian-American women to lead a private equity firm. She launched multiple venture capital funds for more than 15 US universities and built a strong network of co-investors in the US with offices in Texas and New York. Diane is the co-founder of Global She Ventures, an accelerator partnered with Rice University to catalyze global women entrepreneurs. Diane is also the co-founder of the national media platform, Identity Unveiled, spotlighting trailblazing Asian American women who have broken barriers and become first in their field. She is also an investment partner of several Silicon Valley funds, including the largest women’s fund and the first FemTech fund in the country.
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