Despite lip service, Silicon Valley venture capital still a man’s world

Wed Aug 20, 2014 1:14am EDT
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When she started her child-support tracking business SupportPay, Sheri Atwood expected all kinds of suggestions - but not the tip she got from a female investor who suggested she dye her blonde hair darker to be taken more seriously by venture capitalists.

To Atwood, who eventually won her funding from other backers, the recommendation underscored an attitude in Silicon Valley that women make second-class entrepreneurs. If more women held the purse strings at venture capital firms, the attitude would change, she said.

Despite the lip service Silicon Valley has given over the past couple of years to the need to recruit more women venture capitalists, at senior levels the industry’s gender balance hasn’t budged, even as other industries with poor gender diversity show improvements.

The issue matters because women venture capitalists have a direct effect on the success of companies other women launch, say female entrepreneurs, including serving as role models and being more likely to spy potential in businesses that target other women.

About 4 percent of senior investing partners in U.S. venture capital are women, according to data from Pitchbook, a consulting firm. That is down slightly from 5 percent in 2010, and about even with 2008.

The numbers compare to 15 percent of executive officers at Fortune 500 companies, 24 percent of tenured faculty at U.S. business schools, and 20 percent of the U.S. Senate - all areas that have shown gains for gender parity in recent years while venture capital has stagnated.

A leading ranking of venture capitalists, the Forbes Midas List, noted just four women on its latest list of top 100 venture investors. A few years ago, five women typically made the list each year. And despite much discussion over the need to improve gender balance over the past few years, many of the top firms still have no senior women partners at all.


Sheri Atwood, founder and CEO of SupportPay, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Redwood City, California July 2, 2014.    REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach