I have felt strangely turned off by the recent conversation about sexual harassment in venture capital, and I finally understand why. For me, the commentary over the last few weeks has been a painful reminder that I might be seen as the weaker species.
I was the victim of blatant, tabloid-style sexual harassment when I was first starting out in my career. I was even subject to some more subtle sexual harassment last week. It’s terrible for many reasons, but the most painful part of these experiences was the realization that these perpetrators saw me as inferior.
Since becoming the Chief Investment Officer for the female-focused MergeLane venture fund three years ago, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of investors who invest in women because they think it is the smart rather than the “right” thing to do. I woke up this morning realizing that this recent sexual harassment conversation has made me feel the same way I’ve felt when investors invest in women because they think it is the “charitable” thing to do.
There have been well-intentioned suggestions that this is a human rights issue and wide-spread calls for more policies and procedures to protect women. I appreciate this deeply. I want to feel safe when I am working with men in our industry. I want to be as brave as the women who have come forward when I am sexually harassed.
Far more desperately, however, I want this change to occur because the venture capital industry truly values the contributions made by women. I want venture capitalists, LPs, and entrepreneurs to actually believe that gender diversity produces better returns. I want the effort to make venture capital a safe place for women to be driven by a genuine desire to invite more women to the table, rather than by a fear of litigation or public flogging.
For those of you who have kindly asked what you can do about this issue, here are a few suggestions:
As an up-and-coming woman in venture capital, there are two specific things I wish people would do:
First, ask women to speak on non-gender related topics. I’m asked to speak about gender issues roughly ten times as frequently as I’m asked to speak about genderless business issues. I’d like to have more opportunities to be seen for my strengths as a venture capitalist.
Second, if you extend an offer to support emerging talent in the venture capital ecosystem, stop to think whether there may be an equally qualified woman who could also benefit from that offer. As an example, some of the best venture capital networking opportunities involve skiing or golfing. I am an expert skier and my business partner is an expert golfer, but I am not sure if we are as top-of-mind as our male counterparts for these opportunities.
And for whatever it is worth, writing this post has made me completely reenergized and refocused on achieving the best returns possible for the MergeLane venture fund. Thank you to all of you who believe making venture capital a safe place for women will increase venture capital performance. I look forward to proving you right.
I am extremely disciplined and focused. However, this can also be a detriment. Anything I perceive as a distraction from my to-do list feels stressful, and I have to constantly tell myself that off-the-to-do-list opportunities are often the best opportunities. I was recently reminded of that.
For the final episode of Fund81's first season, I interviewed Jaclyn Freeman Hester from Foundry Group. As someone relatively new to the industry, she has a fresh perspective on what's compelling to institutional investors and an incredible pulse on the landscape for emerging VC managers. Enjoy!
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Dave Balter, the CEO of one of our MergeLane portfolio companies, Flipside Crypto, shares his perspective on investing in the cryptocurrency space. Dave is obsessed with and extremely knowledgeable about cryptocurrency, and has an interesting perspective from both sides of the table.
Most venture capital funds target a minimum ownership percentage when making investments. In this Fund81 episode, Amish Jani, a founder and Managing Director of FirstMark Capital, shares his take on why ownership matters and how funds of different sizes and strategies determine ownership targets.
Venture capital funds are typically structured to have a 10-year lifespan, but venture-backed companies often take more than 10 years to achieve an exit and return capital to their investors. In this Fund81 podcast episode, we discuss solutions to this problem with our our guest, Roland Reynolds.
This year, I decided to do an experiment. To build our MergeLane investor and mentor network, I dedicated four months to exclusively focus on meetings that involved skiing.
Conscious Leadership has been a game-changer for our partnership and our investing. For this Fund81 podcast interview, I invited my business partner at the MergeLane venture fund for high-potential startups with at least one woman in leadership, Sue Heilbronner, to talk about Conscious Leadership.