The Gender Issue Part II

My twitter stream and email inbox has been full of links to the NY Times article published yesterday — Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley.

It is great to see that a conversation is finally evolving on the importance of gender diversity in the technology and venture capital sectors. On my trip to Rwanda last year I wrote a blog post on why I thought diversity in general was important.

When I meet with startups one of the first reactions/comments is that they have never met a female VC before. We exist, and I count close friends, and investors that I admire greatly, in the ranks. I have also worked with many male VCs who have funded women led companies and are supportive of women. However, after 11 years as a venture capitalist, I can say this industry is one of the most male dominated that I have encountered (including investment banking — many larger firms have diversity programs, shareholders and boards that provide incentives and oversight on this issue).

Successful companies grow out of an ecosystem and network of support, and that includes mentors, investors and role models. Integration of different viewpoints and backgrounds is not always easy but research validates that there is long term payoff for any short term challenges that may exist:

For those with a bottom-line approach, analysts say it makes a difference when women are in the garages where tech start-ups are founded or the boardrooms where they are funded. Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Building out an ecosystem that gives ALL smart, talented entrepreneurs access to funding, and support for their fledgling businesses will benefit everyone in the long term. When I helped launch NYCSeed with Owen Davis a couple of years ago, the goal was to provide this network of support in addition to seed funding. And everyone, including the most successful serial entrepreneurs, can benefit from these networks.

But this access becomes particularly important for first time entrepreneurs, and I am seeing an increasing number of women in this category. These women are thinking just as big as their male counterparts (and sometimes are better at weighing the risks and alternate scenarios!) As technology usage becomes more mainstream and diffuses into more industries and disciplines, more women are becoming creators and users of technology as a default.

That’s why I sat on the board of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs in 1999 in Silicon Valley when I started my venture career, and continue to support women entrepreneurs through Astia, Girls in Tech and a host of other organizations. That’s why I am moderating a panel of incredible women entrepreneurs on the topic of Social Media for Social Change this Monday April 19 at GreenSpaces with Echoing Green and NYWSE. And stay tuned for a panel of tech company founders who have successfully raised venture funding, including Heidi Messer (LinkShare, WorldEvolved) Stephanie Sarka (, new stealth startup), Jen Bekman (20×200) and Jenny Fleiss (Rent the Runway) on May 27 with GIT and Astia hosted at Polaris Ventures’ Dogpatch Labs in NYC.

This is not about singling out women just because they are women, but because they are building businesses that are going to make a significant impact on our lives in the future (while generating a nice return for their investors along the way….)


14 Replies to “The Gender Issue Part II”

  • So this talk of change and transformation is all well and good, but…

    a) why don’t/didn’t you start an actual company? Being a follow-on VC is a lot safer and, frankly, less inspiring to the people you want to inspire (ie entrepreneurial women) than being a founder. By playing it safe, don’t you actually conform to and confirm the stereotype to some extent? (See Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women.)

    b) if I remember correctly, the VC you work for (NYC Development Corp) doesn’t actually lead investments but rather follows on behind others. If you’re relying on other VCs to take the lead, any impact you could theoretically have (by, say, being the first institutional money into a woman-led startup) seems even further diluted and inconsequential.

    Blogging and traveling to Africa and hosting panels are nice things to do, but they’re not really consequential activities in any big picture sense. So how do you Jalak actually embody or scale this vision you espouse? You encourage others to take risk and yet take none yourself. Ironic, no?

    • To be clear, I don’t take issue with your career choice. My intent rather is a) to point out the inconsistency in what you’re saying vs what you’re actually doing and b) that I don’t see how your plan of action will actually lead to your desired outcome. Or am I missing something? (Quite possible.)

  • “Blogging and traveling to Africa and hosting panels are nice things to do, but they’re not really consequential activities in any big picture sense.”– I disagree with your comment.

    I don’t think you have to start a company yourself to impact women in tech. I went to a half day conference for women in business and found a variety of women there inspiring.

    Just having women around you at all that aren’t graphic designers is something special in my line of work…sad but the state of affairs. This woman doesn’t need to start a company to make a difference…. See More

    I disagree with everything you said Matt.

    • Interesting and good to hear! I am glad to be proved wrong and get pushback. Any thoughts on this argument?…

      “Many groups have popped up that support women in technology, like Girls in Tech, She’s Geeky, and many others (enumerated in Digiphile’s thoughtful post Why Including women matters for the future of technology and society). More often than not, these groups are the canned food drives of the women in technology movement. They make you feel better, they might do a little good, but they offer no fundamental change to the system that created the problem in the first place.
      “We don’t need affirmative action for women in tech. We need to create experiences that nurture women and men so that more people are inspired to can create beautiful, technical things together.”

      (Hilary is the Chief Scientist at and a former CS prof, just fyi.)

      • @Matt Mireless – Whoa buddy. I’ve enjoyed your straight talk at your blog (for others, it’s here, but I have to question your entrepreneurial judgment on this one.

        First of all, I think your arguments/attack (that’s the way it reads my friend) isn’t quite fair. No woman, minority, etc needs to take up the mantle for their entire group. This seems to be a common theme in discussions of any poorly represented group in any circle – every person of that group is the unofficial spokesperson and is expected to live their life to pursue the betterment of the group. That’s not a fair responsibility on anyone. Jalak does her part in her own way (based on my reading here) and that is fine. Most people do nothing and talk about it so she should be applauded for her efforts, irrespective of grandeur.

        My bigger question is why you as an entrepreneur would publish what comes off as an attack on a VC’s public blog. Sure, you’re a straight talker and all that good stuff which is great when you’re talking entrepreneurship and whatnot, but this is unnecessarily outside your normal areas of focus or “expertise”. If I was an investor, this would make me think twice about your judgment. Sure you could win the verbal argument, but even if you do, isn’t the potential downside greater than the “Wow – Matt is really smart. Check out this comment” upside. If you were trying to build a Michael Arrington style media empire, this attack could work well. For Speakertext, this does nothing positive and can only hurt you.

        You’ll argue that you don’t live your life that way and your rebel and all that cr^p but good judgment is one thing that is requisite to be an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, you didn’t exercise it with this choice of commentary.

  • If Tom Friedman writes an op-ed in the NYT about, say, the importance of diplomacy in foreign policy, do you suggest that he go be a diplomat? Or if Warren Buffett comments on financial regulation, do you point out the inconsistency between what he’s saying and what he’s doing? It may be less unthinkable to make these kinds of ad hominem (ad feminem?) comments to a peer, but setting aside Jalak’s qualifications (which I wouldn’t be so dismissive about, btw, esp. since you don’t even know what she’s done), these are truly inconsequential comments, in any sense. At least blogging and hosting panels create some awareness.

    • @Raj: I think the difference between the examples you cited and the technology community is that if/when Warren Buffett or Tom Friedman makes a comment, they have a reasonable expectation that their commentary itself may influence actual events and that others can & will act as a result of what they are saying. But when it comes to women in tech, which is a much much smaller world, talk alone will not lead to any action. And in this case what we’re talking about is a huge, entrenched problem.

      Morever, I am an entrepreneur and I think people should put their time and money where their mouth is. Jalak (who i have met) is a ridiculously intelligent, capable woman with MANY many options. Nothing is gonna hold her back from getting what she wants in this life.

      @Jalak: While I stand behind the substance of my challenge/imploring to act and not just talk, my original comment comes off as a quite bit more ad hominen/dickish than i intended. I really wasn’t intending to attack your career choice/belittle what you’re doing or done, although it clearly comes across that way. My apologies.

      @Tim: a) see my above comment to Jalak. My point was neither to make this a conversation about me (ugh) nor to launch an ad hominen attack. b) Just because someone has power or is a VC doesn’t mean we as entrepreneurs should shy away from calling them out and challenging them. They are humans just like anyone else, and polite head nodding is not something they deserve or expect on their blogs. If I wanted to join a community where such “don’t criticise the boss” behavior was the norm, I’d work for a big company. If people don’t want to be challenged or called out for being inconsistent, then they probably shouldn’t write public commentary for the internet.

  • Matt — i know you like to stir the pot but it would first be helpful to get your facts right (including where I work now). I have invested as a lead, as supplemental capital, and also have started several companies. But I also consider this point somewhat irrelevant, as the post is not about me, but about building an ecosystem of support around ALL entrepreneurs, including women.

    • Sorry, NYC Investment Fund, not Dev Corp. My mistake. With regards to the other stuff: when met at the Entrepreneur Roundtable a few months ago, I remember you specifically stating during the Q+A that NYC Investment Fund does not lead investments. If I’m wrong on that front, I stand corrected, but I got that from you.

      But to the original point: You’re in a position of power. , Unlike 99.99999% of the population, you really can do anything you want. You’ve got the education, access to capital, connections, resources, etc. Do you really think the things you listed are really changing the game?

      From where I stand, serving on panels and this kind of thing seems like the comfortable, honorable thing that your peers will applaud and pat you on the back for doing––the proverbial canned food drive, as Hilary Mason described it––but not really high impact. And for most people, that’d be fine. But my point is that you’re in a special position of power, and I believe that with the gift of power comes a responsibility to turn talk into action and impact upon the world.

      Maybe it’s there and I’m just too dumb to see it, but where’s the pot stirring? At what point do we go beyond that which is comfortable to that which has impact?

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