Silicon Valley. How many times have we heard of its wondrous innovation and the glories of its bold venture capitalism that joins brilliant entrepreneurs with eager financial backing?
Except there’s just one thing: it only works for dudes. Women have a slightly different experience.
According to a new study from Babson College, less than 3 percent of the 6,793 companies that received venture capital from 2011-2013 were headed by a woman.
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Let’s think about that for a moment. In the tsunami of money that washed over Silicon Valley during those years — a whopping $51 billion — only a measley trickle of $1.5 billion ended up with women starting businesses.
As for that talk about “leaning in” and how women should project confidence and wear red suits and stand in “power poses” if they want to succeed, blah blah blah, researchers aren’t buying it. As the Babson College study co-author Patricia Greene put it, “The findings of this study demonstrate it is not the women who need fixing; the model for venture capital that has been in place since the 1980s simply does not work for women entrepreneurs.”
When women can’t get access to venture capital, they don’t make it in Silicon Valley. Period. The stakes could not be higher.
In a recent account published anonymously in Forbes because the author, the female head of a tech startup, feared retribution, we get a harrowing picture of what it’s like to be a woman trying to raise money in the Valley. The photo accompanying the piece speaks volumes: it is a man’s hand placed oh-so-nonchalantly over a woman’s bare knee.
In what she described as the “wild west of fundraising,” the author attempted to navigate the “alpha male-dominated VC community” as a businesswoman. She leaned in as hard as she could, setting up meetings, following up with emails, scheduling calls. One potential investor insisted on meeting at his home, citing evening childcare responsibilities. But it wasn’t childcare, or business, for that matter, that was on his mind as he made unwanted sexual advances on the sofa. In trying to figure out how to deal with the situation, she struggled through this sad-but-familiar train of thought:
“If I chose to complain—or make a scene and wake up his children who slept nearby—it would be another case of he said/she said, like the countless harassment cases that have made headlines in the tech community but have not done much to change status quo. Given his standing in the community and his personal wealth, who would believe my claims as anything more than those of a spurned little girl upset that a VC had chosen not to invest in her company?”
Women are forced to perform these mental gymnastics every day while trying to deal with the sexist atmosphere of Silicon Valley, and woe be to them if they do not perform them flawlessly. Their reputations, livelihoods, dreams, and talents can all get derailed in a minute. In this case, the woman decided to wear a gold band on her finger when meeting with male venture capitalists in the future, a dishonest maneuver but one she hoped would protect her from future harassment. That became part of the business plan.
Welcome to Silicon Valley, land of opportunity.