We know that founders are looking for investors who value diversity and recognize the success that comes with diverse teams, so what can we do to attract more women on the investment side of the table and shift what types of founders, products, and services are being funded? Venture capital represents one of the most sought-after fields for top business school grads today, yet women represent only 8% of the investment professionals at the top 25 VC firms.
As a white male investor, I want to know what I can do to support and encourage more women into careers in venture capital.
With her unique background, Sara Lindquist, Associate at FUSE, has broken traditional barriers and is sharing her experience of stepping into the VC field. Sara has an interesting story because she started her career in business development and finance isn’t her main focus.
“It’s possible to get in without a traditional finance background; everyone has a unique way that they can contribute. How can you bring your distinctive set of experiences and approach to connect with great companies?”
Coming from a background of sports, music, songwriting, performing, and academic pursuits, Sara was the youngest member of the team when she joined FUSE, so although she has plenty left to learn, she has brought new perspectives to the table and helped deliver a complementary skill set for the FUSE team.
Sara interned at Ignition Partners and was most recently the analyst relations specialist at Smartsheet, and by having such a rich background, she demonstrates that nontraditional experience can pave the way for engaging in successful company growth, growing new spheres of influence, and building productive networks.
“Women have different leadership styles, not just in approach, but also in the observation of portfolio companies and their management teams. Women are a significant factor in the workforce, so companies need the capability to attract and retain. One area I hope to contribute to includes helping our portfolio companies implement intelligent recruiting strategies for women.”
According to a study in Harvard Business Review, VC firms with 10% more female investing partners make more successful investments at the portfolio company level, have 1.5% higher fund returns, and see 9.7% more profitable exits. We need to invest in women by giving more access to capital, mentorship, and industry networks to make it possible for them to be comfortable in the VC space.
“We all have unique networks, personal relationships, market knowledge, and talents, which ultimately add to the fabric of a VC ecosystem and broader community. Women need to personally reflect on what they can bring to the table. We may see markets and trends from different perspectives. Women are also powerful consumers who influence many buying positions—any of these insights might reveal a key benefit.”
The good news about encouraging more women into careers in VC is that in recent years, several institutional managers have launched diversity initiatives to invest in women and diverse managers. With more diversity and women in senior roles, there is a greater likelihood of champions who are willing to go to bat for other women to move up the ladder.
Intentionally bringing more diversity into the VC space will lead to change within networks and open up opportunities for more women to enter into investment careers.
“I have had tremendous mentorship to help me hone in on ways that I can contribute— whether it is working with a company management team, helping position a product’s revenue potential, or just doing quality market research. In VC there are many success factors, so it simply comes down to contributing in a meaningful way and helping your team and portfolio companies win.”
Lean on your peer groups to support in developing your skills—especially when there are opportunities for women to mentor other women entering into the field. Another great point that Sara emphasized was the importance of getting settled and feeling welcomed into the firm, which builds up the confidence required to navigate all of the opportunities in VC.
“The FUSE team has such high integrity, intelligence, and camaraderie. We’re one team—a family—and that has not only contributed to my positive personal experience thus far, but it will make a big difference in how we execute.”
As important as women mentoring other women is, VC as an entire industry must do better with encouraging more women into careers and leadership. We need to welcome women at the doors of investing for there to even be interest in pursuing it, and investors who are ingrained in the business need to tear open the seemingly impenetrable “old boys’ network.”
Because venture capital is a closed network and very much based on who you know, all investors should be actively breaking out of their existing circles and diversely expanding their networks. Encouraging more women to get their foot in the door is one thing, but we also need to provide the resources required to retain their talents and see them step into leadership positions.
We all know the value of seeing women in venture capital roles, so let’s push for a cultural shift and support, mentor, and build relationships to get them there.