How women VCs invest says a lot about the inequality in their field

Venture capitalist Jenny Lee in 2015, the year she became the first woman to make the top 10 on Forbes’ Midas List.
Venture capitalist Jenny Lee in 2015, the year she became the first woman to make the top 10 on Forbes’ Midas List.
Image: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Female venture capitalists (VCs) have made steady progress over the past few decades, but still make up a small percentage of VCs overall. Data released today (Mar. 25) by grassroots initiative Women in VC reveals the limitations that female VCs are working under, and how they affect the progress of women in VC as well as female founders.

The vast majority of female VCs are investing primarily in early-stage startups, in the seed and series A funding rounds.

Part of the reason they are investing mostly in the early stages is that female VCs have trouble pooling the large sums of money needed for later-stage funding, says Jessica Peltz, a partner at VC firm MDC Ventures. “It’s a big problem,” she adds.

This difficulty in raising large funds affects even well-known female VCs, such as Arlan Hamilton, who has reportedly struggled to attract investors for her $36 million fund, Backstage Capital.

Having female VCs concentrated at the early stages in the process affects female founders, too. Though women led 17% of startups in 2017, they received just 2% of all VC funding in the US. Firms that employ female VCs tend to back higher numbers of female-founded companies. “Do I think women have a competitive advantage versus men when it comes to identifying opportunities in consumer-facing areas where they have more first-party experience? Yes. I think women are better positioned to do that,” says Sutian Dong, a partner at Female Founders Fund, which focuses on early-stage funding. With few female VCs investing in startups’ growth stages, it’s harder for those female-led companies to power through towards profitability.

The Women in Venture Capital data has its limitations. It’s weighted heavily towards VCs in the US, and 86% of its data is self-reported, which can be inaccurate (pdf). But the lesson the data carries is clear: Women in VC will be better represented in VC on the whole once they’re better represented at the mid- and large-sized funds that are better able to back more mature (and less risky) companies.

According to Dong, there’s no one thing that’s keeping female VCs down. It might just be a matter of time until female VCs are investing more evenly across all stages, she says, and that might happen in the next couple of years.

“My hypothesis is that, over time, women will enter in the late [funding] stages where investors will recognize the opportunity they’re leaving on the table if they don’t have women on board who can look at a company like Glossier and say ‘this is the next big thing,'” Dong says.

This story is part of How We’ll Win in 2019, a year-long exploration of workplace gender equality. Read more stories here.