Monday, March 30, 2015

YES: Leaning in is fine, but kicking ass is better.

YES: Leaning in is fine, but kicking ass is better.

The Ellen Pao vs Kleiner gender discrimination case further amplified the volume of the debate over the lack of diversity in tech be it VC but also amongst angel investors and of course founders/entrepreneurs. While some have openly worried about adverse unintended consequences of the case, personally I agree with Justice Brandeis that "sunlight is the best disinfectant".

That said the issues involved have been dissected by the tech media, mainstream media, tech bloggers, the twittersphere and more to the point where anyone who has a heart beat knows what the problems are (in terms of demographics - so VC partners are 94% male etc) and the reasons (polite popular answer: unconscious bias; less voiced assessment: just dumb sexism). 

For men concerned about, and working to do something about, the gender disparities in tech knowing how to respond and move forward has been complicated by the fate of Vivek Wadhwa. I had learnt a lot personally by thinking this through with Erin Bagwell, producer of the Dream, Girl documentary (out this fall.) Erin said this:

"... the fact remains men hold most positions of power so without their investment or mentorship women can't advance. We need both sides of the table fighting for gender, racial and lgbtq equality."

We agreed that the job of anyone wanting to be an advocate in this arena means using the spotlight (if you have it, or at least a little bit of it) to shine it on issues or people who need it. So, as I mentioned to Erin, more like the "leading from behind" management philosophy that Linda Hill of HBS has written about. But beyond that I also think that, for the sentient people who get it, it's more than ever time to "be the change you want to see in the world" - frankly we don't need another article or blog post about what the problems are. We need to move on and fix them.

In that context I was struck by the blunt talk from Jason Calacanis. His recent blog on the Ellen Pao case is the source of the title of this piece - thanks Jason, it's my new motto. While discussing the extreme nature of gender homogeneity in VC and reviewing some of the many "whys" Jason said:

"What is undeniable, however, is that venture capital is absurdly male-dominated and changing very, very slowly.
That sucks and needs to change."

I agree with his conclusion, namely that "leaning in" is going to take too long to shift things. ie small, clubby, closed groups don't evolve their modus operandi very fast. This is much more than a "pipeline" issue for example - and even that is a long term fix. 

So here is where I think we are at: for those who want to see change and have the capital to commit, both women and men, there is an obvious way to move beyond words to get results. Namely to fund women founding venture capital firms (Jason lists nine in his post but there are and will be more) and also of course women entrepreneurs/founders. Don't talk about it, write about it ... just do it. And so, as As Kelly Hoey puts it: "Invest In The Change You Want To See In The World." (And for those without the dollars there are many other constructive things you can do - in Erin's case producing a documentary and getting it funded on Kickstarter.)

Per the recent Babson report just 2.7% of VC companies over the three year period they studied had women CEOs. For a half of the population that is, I would venture to suggest, just as hard working, smart, committed , creative etc etc as the other half there is something wrong there. For the smart early stage investor, be it VC or angel, that disparity should spell just one word - opportunity.  Because if the current investor community is missing great companies because of a "pattern recognition" #fail there is an opportunity to compete with that status quo and ... make money. That is the thesis I came up with some years ago when I got into Angel - set out in my 2013 post: Investing in Women Entrepreneurs ... with help from Isaiah Berlin, Hedgehogs and Foxes. So far it has served at least this investor pretty well.