Opinion: Nearly all-male venture capital ranks missing a big opportunity for profit
By MEGAN BENT
Today’s venture capitalists are ignoring an easy way to boost profits. They’re sitting on heaps of data that say gender diversity leads to greater financial returns. Yet they remain resistant to investing in women.
Research shows that venture capitalists who bet on female talent enjoy higher returns — and that female partners are the best at recognizing talent.
Consider women-led startups backed by venture capital. According to a 2014 report, these firms earn 12 percent more. A report from researchers from Duke, Stanford, and the Kaufman Foundation found that women-led tech companies boast a return on investment that’s 35 percent greater than male-led companies.
It’s not just startups. According to a recent study of top-ranked equities, those of gender-diverse companies had “much better risk adjusted stock returns” than their peers. Among stocks with similar returns, the gender-diverse companies had a lower likelihood of dipping.
Yet female entrepreneurs under-index on access to capital. Only 9 percent of entrepreneurs at venture-backed, high-growth tech startups are women. And last year, only about 17 percent of global VC deals included a female founder.
Why? Implicit bias unfortunately leads investors to favor men.
Three groundbreaking studies found that brains and beauty are a winning combination — but only for male entrepreneurs. One found that men making a pitch were 60 percent more likely to get investor funding than their female counterparts.
When researchers had male and female voices give identical pitches, study participants deemed the male pitches more “persuasive” and “logical.”
Getting more females into the investment committee solves this problem.
According to Sahil Raina of the Alberta School of Business, female-led startups are significantly more likely to achieve acquisition — or pursue an IPO — if financed by VC firms with female partners. This finding suggests that women in VC are better at detecting or mentoring female entrepreneurial talent, or both.
Clearly, women should be on both sides of the negotiating table. This sounds simple but venture firms are struggling to close the gender gap. In fact, there are fewer female venture partners today than there were in 1999.
One reason? Venture executives are leery of conversations about gender bias. And it’s easy to stick to the status quo when returns look good enough.
That’s why firms must incorporate quantitative and qualitative feedback on gender equality into the annual review process.
VC leaders must realize that gender equity is a fiscal imperative. A gender gap can and will become a liability. Consider the lesson Uber learned the hard way. “What has driven Uber to immense success — its aggression, the hard-charging attitude — has toppled over,” Uber’s chief human resources officer frankly acknowledged in response to accusations of endemic sexism at the company.
For their part, investors and portfolio companies must vote with their dollars. As part of their diligence, they should investigate VC firm female-partner ratios, start-up founder ratios and hiring policies.
Investing in women is a recipe for VC success. Consider my fund’s experience with Fresh Monster, a company that makes natural hair-care products for children. Historically, men have struggled to understand the market for kids’ personal care. But we saw the possibilities — and today, Fresh Monster’s products are sold in more than 3,000 stores.
No one in venture capital would say “let’s find the best man for the job.” But that’s the de facto attitude of far too many. I wouldn’t usually share my investment secrets, but I’m tired of feeling like the only woman in venture capital.
Megan Bent is the founder of Harbinger Ventures, which invests in female entrepreneurs and CEOs, and co-founder of Revelry Brands. She wrote this for The Mercury News.