Sequoia Capital, a famed Silicon Valley investment firm that has recently come under fire for its all-male leadership, has hired its first US female partner. Jess Lee, CEO of online fashion company Polyvore (acquired by Yahoo for more than $200 million last year), will become the 11th partner at the firm’s Menlo Park office beginning in November.
The firm has tremendous influence and has invested in some of the most iconic companies of our time—Google, Apple, PayPal. Partner Alfred Lin tweeted the news this morning:
This is big news not just for Sequoia, but also for the VC world in general, which is notorious for its “bro” culture.
Last December, Sequoia chairman Michael Moritz told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang that the firm wasn’t willing to “lower our standards” in order to meet quotas. After receiving blowback for his comments, Moritz amended his comments the next day: “I know there are many remarkable women who would flourish in the venture business. We’re working hard to find them and would be ecstatic if more joined Sequoia or other firms.”
Four months later, after partner Michael Goguen left the firm amidst an explosive lawsuit, Facebook VP Mike Vernal joined the firm, raising the issue of its lack of diversity once again. Amidst the controversy around Moritz’s comments, the firm noted that it has female investing partners in China and India, and hired investment analyst Stephanie Zhan in Menlo Park.
An in-depth 2015 report on the VC industry, titled “Bros Funding Bros“(published in collaboration between Social Capital and The Information), revealed that most of the top 71 investment firms are predominantly male. The report’s lead author, Chamath Palihapitiya, noted that there is a trickle-down effect when it comes to investing: typically people invest in people who remind them of themselves (hence the title of the report).
In an interview a few months ago, Lee described herself to Quartz as an introverted CEO, which she also said is her greatest strength. She worked hard to develop a culture of transparency at Polyvore. “When you see leaders being authentic and talking about their failures, and not just the successes, it creates an environment where people feel comfortable approaching you,” she says. “If they see you be vulnerable, they are more willing to be vulnerable with you.”
Lee pointed to a study by Google (“Project Aristotle”) on what traits define the best-performing teams. The top predictor was psychologically safety. “If people feel psychologically safe, they can raise problems,” says Lee, who was previously a manager at Google. “You can’t fix things that you don’t even know about.”
The best investors are the ones willing to go into the trenches with their teams. If Lee’s leadership at Polyvore is any indication, she’ll be an excellent addition to the VC industry.