7 Ways Silicon Valley Could Transform Its Toxic Culture
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Back in 2011, I was a female entrepreneur raising money in Silicon Valley for my toddler gaming company. I attended a tech conference, stood up on a chair, and shouted to a crowd of 500-plus attendees that I was looking for a seed investment and I was available to talk. I got one taker. Fast forward six years later, I am now an angel investor and a tech worker in the Bay Area. Looking back at this episode, I realize that having access to capital is crucial for your company to get ahead. This access to capital is all about your network, especially as a (black) woman in tech.
When former First Lady Michelle Obama suggested that we “make more room for women in tech” in Silicon Valley, it also pertained to the powermongers of the tech megalopolis: male venture capitalists. Because men make up 94 percent of venture partners, and the closed nature of the VC industry, VCs get to operate in a siloed network, where inappropriate behaviors abound: intimidation, power abuse, sexual advances, the objectification and sexualization of female founders -- the list goes on. It goes beyond the pure sexism ingrained in startup bro culture. In actuality, it is the precursor of a pervasive rape culture.
How can we transform the VC industry and its culture? Here are seven ideas:
1. Get rid of bad apples.
VC firms should systematically terminate partners and employees found to have engaged in wrongful conduct, sexual harassment, assault and rape.
2. Adopt a mandatory code of conduct.
Some VCs are partnering up to develop a national code of conduct. This code of conduct could be based on busting bias in day-to-day work practices and breaking pervasive behaviors of males VCs wanting to invest in people who “look like them” while objectifying and harassing the opposite sex.
3. Work towards gender parity.
VC firms could welcome more women, non-binary people and men of color as VC investment partners and pledge to get to 30/30/30 representation between non-binary people, women and men VCs by 2025. Committed VCs would lead the way and invite qualified women to join as partners right away.
4. Create VC women-in-residence programs.
Create a formal women-in-residence network as a formal pool of future VC partners. Just like entrepreneurs-in-residence, aspiring female VCs could learn the ropes of the VC world under the safeguards of the code of conduct. Top female talent could be enrolled in fast-track growth development programs. On top of having the EIR programs for women and non-binary femmes, renowned VCs could partner with women-focused VC firms and co-invest alongside or after them in the same companies.
5. Hire a consulting firm to help.
VC firms could hire firms like Accenture to help them get to 30/30/30 representation among non-binary, female and male partners by 2025.
6. Implemenet mandatory VC bias busting training.
VC firms could be held accountable to complete bias busting trainings focused on sexism, sexual harassment and race. These trainings would be focused on men, women and non-binary femmes, racial stereotypes and interactions. These action-driven trainings could be transformative vs. informative. Quarterly mandatory certifications would have to be completed to keep operating their VC firms.
7. Correct salary disparities.
VC firms can correct and adjust salaries to full parity like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who paid $3 million to deliver equal pay to Salesforce employees. Additionally, companies could analyze and compare salaries not just at current level but at levels of experience in the field, career trajectory and potential.
As a woman or non-binary femme raising capital, if you do not have a strong VC network, how will you create one quickly to raise funding for your company? According to the statistics, It will likely take more guts, more sweat and more “shouting to network” for a minority woman or non-binary femme founder to get funding, if she gets any.
What can the VC industry do to enable more female VCs, female angel investors and investment in female founders? Organizations to look at partnering with include Pipeline Angels (which I am part of), Springboard, Female Founders Fund and Shatter Fund.
Diverse companies perform better. The data is loud and clear. What are we waiting for to capture this opportunity?