It's the eve of Ada Lovelace day, and there's no better time to celebrate the gains of women in STEM. As the mother of a young girl who loves to code, I want my daughter to know that Ada Lovelace is hailed as the first tech visionary and creator of the first computer algorithm. Though her father was the famed poet Lord Byron, it was Lovelace’s mother who taught her mathematics. Creating these opportunities for women to get involved in STEM is vital: just imagine how behind Silicon Valley would be if Ada never learned math.
But the point isn't to talk about women in technology, it's to act: I teach technical skills at my children's school because I want to inspire young girls to learn computer science and show boys as well as girls that women in STEM are not an anomaly. Our children should know that women can be CEOs, CTOs and engineers. As a young girl, I was inspired by my role model aunt who told me I could run my own company one day. However, were it not for the abundant women in tech from my alma mater, I may not have been inspired to pursue a career in technology.
We Don't Need More Awareness, We Need More Action
Much has been written in the tech and business press about the lack of women in technology, the dearth of women in venture capital (3%) and the problem with so few women on boards. Despite data showing that women-led Fortune 500s outperform those led by men, few venture capital firms and angel investors actively pursue women-founded companies. There are the rare exceptions like Jonathan Sposato and Kevin O'Leary. There are venture firms like First Round Capital whose top 10 performing companies include women in the top ranks, and 500 Startups, which has funded more than a hundred startups founded by women.
First Round's ROI data of 300 portfolio companies over ten years showed that startup teams with at least one female founder performed 63 percent better than all male teams. The data also showed that women are present in the top ranks of their ten most valuable companies.
Yet only 4% of women are funded by venture capitalists. Several VCs I've talked with claim they practice "gender blind" investing and that there aren't enough technical women founding companies who actively try to pitch them. The gender disparity in Silicon Valley is much more than just a pipeline problem: unconscious biases pervade the investor landscape. VCs are notorious for their pattern recognition. In fact, research conducted by Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and MIT showed that investors preferred male entrepreneurs to the females, even when the pitches were exactly the same.
I've been privy to dozens of closed-door conversations about the challenges of fundraising as a woman in Silicon Valley, including founders being solicited for dates to questions about whether founders who are pregnant or have young children can hack startup life (the answer is YES). Even successful founders like Sarah Blakely, Ivanka Trump and Jenn Hyman were underestimated by many male VCs. These women went on to create multi-million dollar companies. And the stories keep on coming: Jenn Hyman, CEO and founder of Rent the Runway shared a report about an investor who called her "adorable" after a pitch.
The Needs of a Growing Business are Gender-Blind
As any VC or founder with a successful exit will tell you, money is a key ingredient to startup founding, survival, and growth. Women founders need capital to fund their success. So where are all the women investing in women?
Why are there are so few women on AngelList? At last count, there were 50,000 reported investors on AngelList, but fewer than 5% are women. Of the 150 syndicate leads on the site (angels who invest money on behalf of other angels) only 5 are women, which mirrors the same lamentable 3% as in venture capital. 500 Startups has an angel syndicate specifically for female angel investors called 500 Women, yet there are fewer than 40 backers and only $235K committed so far. There are a handful of angel groups focused on funding women founders, including Astia Angels, Golden Seeds, Broadway Angels and the newly-formed Rising Tide Fund, which teaches the angel investing to women. New women-focused crowdfunding and investing platforms like Portfolia and Plum Alley were created by women to enable all investors to gain easy access to women-founded companies.
How Iron Sisters are Breaking the Glass Ceiling
There is hope just yet, with women in STEM leading the way. Take Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the only female CEO in the so-called “Decacorn Club” (startups with valuations of $10 billion or more), who recently called on women to help each other by launching an "Iron Sisters" campaign on Twitter. Theranos produced a video called "Breaking the Glass Ceiling" to inspire more women to pursue careers in science and technology. "Every time you see a glass ceiling, there is an Iron Lady beneath it," said Holmes as she rallied a hundred women at the U.S. Department of State’s TechWomen initiative held at Theranos headquarters in Palo Alto earlier this week.
Investors can shift the balance, too. YC partner Jessica Livingston is doing her part to change the ratio through the Female Founders Conference to help women founders share lessons from their failures and successes. There are more than 3,400 women founders on the YC Female Founders Conference Facebook group sharing discussions ranging on topics ranging from how to raise money, which investors to pitch, advice on recruiting and recommendations on services, to products to help women scale their startups. Getting more women to participate in organizations like Girls in Tech, Women 2.0, Hackbright Academy and Women Who Code empowers them with a support network to discuss issues that only other women in tech would truly "get".
The people who will change the ratio for women will be us women. It's time for us to be the solution we've been looking for. While men can collaborate with us as partners, co-founders, investors and family members, they will not be our saviors. If you are an entrepreneur, an investor, an engineer, a mother with a daughter, a teacher in STEM or a woman who wants to change the status quo, join me and the thousands of women in tech who need your support. by supporting, helping, mentoring and investing in women in tech.