Addressing the Elephant in the Valley

female-foundersI’ve worked in male-dominated industries for my entire career— in engineering, on Wall Street, as a founder, and in venture capital investment. As I think about my journey, I owe a significant portion of my success to the handful of women who were my mentors – encouraging me when I needed a hand, and providing honest feedback when I needed a reality check. They gave me opportunities to succeed, chances to move forward, and a network of support to catch me when I stumbled.

These are all resources that I hope to extend to other women in the workplace, just as so many women have so generously done for me. That’s why on June 7th, it was so rewarding to welcome 50 women to the Foundation Capital offices for our second annual Female Founders Dinner.

The group included female CEOs, investors, developers, and 21 female founders from a broad swath of tech companies.

With the support of my Foundation Capital colleagues, in particular Meg Sloan, I started the Female Founders Dinner in the hopes that it would provide a much-needed space for innovative and talented women to connect and discuss the professional challenges they face.

Over dinner, Trae Vassallo presented her revealing “Elephant in the Valley” report and shared her personal stories and experiences as a technologist, founder, and investor in Silicon Valley. Her presentation provided a valuable starting point and statistical anchor for the dinner discussion that followed.

(By the way, the dinner was not a women-only affair. Trae’s husband, Steve, who happens to be a general partner here at Foundation Capital, along with my partners Ashu and Rodolfo, joined us as well.)

In her survey of more than 200 professional women, most with over ten years of experience and nearly all based in Silicon Valley, 84 percent reported having been told that they were “too aggressive,” 66 percent reported feeling excluded from key social and networking opportunities because of gender, and 60 percent reported unwanted sexual advances.[i]

Combine that with the fact that, here in the Valley, companies founded by women are dramatically underfunded compared to those founded by men, and you begin to see the scope of the challenge.[ii]

At the same time, there has been progress. While only 9.5 percent of companies had at least one female founder in 2009, that number grew to 18 percent in 2014.[iii]

The discussion that followed Trae’s presentation was about how to accelerate the progress, and the role everyone has to play in combatting unconscious biases, barriers to entry, and underrepresentation that still exist in the workplace.

I hope that the Female Founders Dinner helps develop the communities and opportunities that women need and deserve. Already, a true community has formed following the event, and those connections continue to be strengthened. And I look forward to making dinners like this a more common occurrence. It’s on all of us to do better, because Silicon Valley can’t keep operating with one hand tied behind its back.