Mergelane Blog

Broadening the On-ramp for Women-run Companies

Dear Venture Capital, Thanks for your offer to “protect” me. I really just want you to value me.

I have felt strangely turned off by the recent conversation about sexual harassment in venture capital, and I finally understand why. For me, the commentary over the last few weeks has been a painful reminder that I might be seen as the weaker species.

I was the victim of blatant, tabloid-style sexual harassment when I was first starting out in my career. I was even subject to some more subtle sexual harassment last week. It’s terrible for many reasons, but the most painful part of these experiences was the realization that these perpetrators saw me as inferior.

Since becoming the Chief Investment Officer for the female-focused MergeLane venture fund three years ago, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of investors who invest in women because they think it is the smart rather than the “right” thing to do. I woke up this morning realizing that this recent sexual harassment conversation has made me feel the same way I’ve felt when investors invest in women because they think it is the “charitable” thing to do.

There have been well-intentioned suggestions that this is a human rights issue and wide-spread calls for more policies and procedures to protect women. I appreciate this deeply. I want to feel safe when I am working with men in our industry. I want to be as brave as the women who have come forward when I am sexually harassed.

Far more desperately, however, I want this change to occur because the venture capital industry truly values the contributions made by women. I want venture capitalists, LPs, and entrepreneurs to actually believe that gender diversity produces better returns. I want the effort to make venture capital a safe place for women to be driven by a genuine desire to invite more women to the table, rather than by a fear of litigation or public flogging.

For those of you who have kindly asked what you can do about this issue, here are a few suggestions:

  • If you believe narrowing the gender gap will increase venture capital returns, share that view widely.
  • Remember that an attempt to be a hero to a person or group of people may lead to a sense of paternalism or someone feeling like a victim. It is a subtle difference, but I think an offer to “support” is far more powerful than an offer to “protect” or “empower.”
  • Consider equally effective alternatives to cumbersome policies and procedures. Especially in this industry, anything that slows progress is generally met with resentment and could potentially make things worse for women.
  • Admit hypocrisy and hold others accountable for walking the walk, particularly when they’re talking the talk.

As an up-and-coming woman in venture capital, there are two specific things I wish people would do:

First, ask women to speak on non-gender related topics. I’m asked to speak about gender issues roughly ten times as frequently as I’m asked to speak about genderless business issues. I’d like to have more opportunities to be seen for my strengths as a venture capitalist.

Second, if you extend an offer to support emerging talent in the venture capital ecosystem, stop to think whether there may be an equally qualified woman who could also benefit from that offer. As an example, some of the best venture capital networking opportunities involve skiing or golfing. I am an expert skier and my business partner is an expert golfer, but I am not sure if we are as top-of-mind as our male counterparts for these opportunities.

And for whatever it is worth, writing this post has made me completely reenergized and refocused on achieving the best returns possible for the MergeLane venture fund. Thank you to all of you who believe making venture capital a safe place for women will increase venture capital performance. I look forward to proving you right.

Related Posts

Tuesday Takeaways 06.30.20 | Surrendering to July

I find that I have to expend three times more energy to feel productive during the holidays. This pattern tends to persist not only during the week of July 4th, but for the entire month of July. 

Read more ➞

Fund81 Summer Spotlight: Five Startups Sourced from the Fund81 VC Forum

We sourced five startups from our Fund81 VC forum members to present for our June forum. Check out this episode to hear pitches from these incredibly tenacious entrepreneurs. ‍

Read more ➞

Tuesday Takeaways 06.23.20 | How to Ask for Introductions

I have fielded several requests for introductions this week. I like to be helpful, but I also like to be respectful of my network’s time. I'd like to share a few tips for making double opt-in intros easy.

Read more ➞

I've Regressed: Marriage and Gender Equality in the Face of COVID-19

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has a modern marriage. Three months into this COVID-19 situation, however, I'm starting to feel like I'm stuck in a 1950s sitcom.

Read more ➞

Tuesday Takeaways 06.16.20 | Shifting from White Comfort

In a conversation on my partners Sue and Leah’s Marco Polo Channel this week, I shared that my fear of how my participation may be received given my white privilege has historically kept me on the sidelines of the racial equality conversation. Guest coach Kimberly Smith gave me some great advice.

Read more ➞

A Lesson in Leveraging My VC Network for Good | COVID-19 in Vail, Colorado

As a VC, I have the opportunity to build relationships with people who have tremendous resources. I often hesitate to ask my network to support philanthropic causes, because I want to respect our business relationship. After seeing the impact of COVID-19, however, I decided it was time to ask.

Read more ➞

Tuesday Takeaways 06.09.20 | The Best of My Weekly Reading and Listening List

I post my most interesting weekly thoughts, coupled with the best of my listening and reading list, and occasional MergeLane portfolio news each Tuesday. Here’s the best of what I’ve read and listened to this week:

Read more ➞

Episode #28: Finding BIG-Thinking and Executing Entrepreneurs with Dick Rothkopf

I invited Dick Rothkopf, co-founder of Learning Curve International, the manufacturer of the Thomas the Tank Engine toys, to share his thoughts on how to spot big thinkers and big ideas with the propensity to scale, and how to help entrepreneurs think bigger.

Read more ➞

Tuesday Takeaways | My Most Interesting Weekly Thoughts 06.02.20

During this epidemic, I've been doing more reading, listening, and introspective thinking. In an effort to remember and share some of what I learned, I'm going to start posting my most interesting weekly thoughts + the best of my listening and reading list + occasional MergeLane portfolio news.

Read more ➞

Do We Need an Excuse to Say No?

Two people I admire recently shared their silver lining in our global COVID-19 pandemic—an excuse to say no to the constant stream of requests for their time. I’ve made great strides in saying no with candor, but it left me wondering: Can I really stop using excuses for my nos?

Read more ➞