From allegations of a hostile work environment to the recent sexual misconduct accusations against some in the venture community, it’s been a disappointing and disturbing few months for equality in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, these types of behaviors are not specific to tech, and transpire across finance, Hollywood, academia – whenever there is a power imbalance without checks and balances.
In spite of this, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful because I believe these allegations are the beginning of establishing such checks and balances, which we desperately need. The response we’ve seen—an outpouring of support for victims and promises to change culture—is certainly a step in the right direction.
I am also hopeful because I’ve seen the growth of the female founder community. Last Thursday, we hosted Foundation Capital’s 3rd Annual Female Founders’ event, and it’s been a pleasure to watch the female founders in our portfolio—including Lynn from Sunrun, Catheryne from BlockCypher, Rebecca from Moxie, Theresa from Atheros, among many others—as well as our network of female founders flourish over the last three years.
At our first female founders event, hosted by our firm’s late founding partner Kathryn Gould, there were only a handful of women in attendance. It was only a few years prior that Kathryn told me she could count on one hand the number of senior VCs who were women. Unfortunately, that statistic wasn’t much different among entrepreneurs at the time.
Last year, we had over fifty women attend the dinner. We heard from Trae Vassallo, a founder, technologist, and investor, about her experience and challenges as a woman in Silicon Valley. Her presentation “Elephant in the Valley,” was a reminder that we still have a long way to go; just one conclusion from her survey of over 200 professional women stated that 60% had experienced unwanted sexual advances.
This year, our female founders group was large enough to allow for an industry-specific event: Thursday’s dinner was exclusively for enterprise-company entrepreneurs. It was exciting to speak not just about challenges we face as women, but also to learn about the technical breakthroughs they had engineered
It’s in the company of women such as these that I feel the most optimistic. Institutional sexism can’t and won’t be fought with just words. Ultimately, I believe the culture of Silicon Valley will be rebuilt by the efforts of women like ones at our Female Founders’ Dinner, who are creating companies that are already on track to transform their respective industries, women whose success and innovations cannot be ignored.