Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gender bias is alive and well in Silicon Valley

I was very amused by a recent post on TechCrunch by Vivek Wadhwa:

Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC's have a Gender Problem.

It's a good read - and a less politically correct article than the one Vivek wrote in Business Week. Here are some stats from it:

An analysis of Dunn and Bradstreet data shows that of the 237,843 firms founded in 2004, only 19% had women as primary owners. And only 3% of tech firms and 1% of high-tech firms (as in Silicon Valley) were founded by women. Look at the executive teams of any of the Valley’s tech firms – minus a couple of exceptions like Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, you won’t find any women CTOs. Look at the management teams of companies like Apple – not even one woman. It’s the same with the VC firms – male dominated. You’ll find some CFOs and HR heads, but women VCs are a rare commodity in venture capital. And with the recent venture bloodbath, the proportion of women in the VC numbers is declining further. It’s no coincidence that only one of the 84 VCs on the 2009 TheFunded list of top VCs was a woman.

Since I've lived this for more than 20 years now I am a mine of funny stories about gender bias, and it's not a myth - it's real - but you have to stay amused or it would just be depressing.

For a while I thought the issue was over, or at least getting better, but a posting by Megan Berry on HuffPo - The Gender Battle's Not Over - confirms that even though she is only 22 she finds the dearth of women as prevalent as ever.

With the VC community it's all about natural bias and exposure. Silicon Valley is the land of the tech frat boys. Lots of nerdy men - some young - some not so young - fascinated with technology and admiring or dissing each other as they work on it. Because the majority of VCs are male they hang out with men all day. Women are an oddity. Many women of my generation have become tougher and more male in order to fit in - you only have to hear Carol Bartz drop an F-bomb on her earnings call to know that she learned to be tough and one of the guys very early on at Sun Microsystems.

My approach was just to work harder, be smarter, and be more ruthless than the guys around me. But even now when I have been successful as a female entrepreneur, backed by some of the best VCs in the valley, even I get stopped in my tracks sometimes.

Just one little example to wet your appetite: the VC who told me "we don't hire female CEOs because when we have to fire them they always sue for sexual harassment". It's true CEO turnover is high in small companies and as a CEO you have to be ready to be fired if you don't perform, but for a VC to not want to hire a female because he thinks he'd be sued if he fired her - yikes!

My response to that comment....."That's not my style. If I was the type to sue for sexual harassment I'd have done it a long time ago given what I've experienced".

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