Diversity isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s good for business. This fact has become more and more clear over the years as countless studies and conversations have started regarding the powerful impact diversity has on driving successful investments, teams, and innovations.
Throughout my time in venture capital and the investment community, diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that I’ve continuously noticed. It has always been a male-dominated field, and changing that narrative has been way overdue.
For me, the big motivator to act on this issue came about five years ago when I kicked off “Neal’s Running Start”: an intense and fast-paced mentorship program with early-stage entrepreneurs. Of the four finalists, there were three men and one woman. That woman finalist was Katherine Regnier, founder of Canadian-based company Coconut Software. Coconut is the leading provider of appointment scheduling and lobby management solutions for financial institutions.
Katherine dominated the program and truly showed the drive and innovation that women bring to the table. Running her leadership team with more female executives than men revealed the difference that diversity makes and the success that comes with it. Diverse teams have unique perspectives that open up entirely new opportunities and understanding, so why wouldn’t we do something to encourage more of that?
Sometime in that first year working with Katherine, I went to the HQ in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This was certainly an unexpected place to visit, but it brought about some great surprises! It turns out that this Canadian prairie city was becoming an excellent tech and diversity hub.
Along with Katherine’s company, another organization that impressed me with its approach was Co.Labs. Co.Labs is Saskatchewan’s tech incubator helping startups scale and receive funding. What caught my attention was that Co.Labs was guiding a lot of female-founded companies —something unique to what I’ve experienced from other firms and organizations. It was a learning experience and eyeopener seeing Saskatchewan’s tech ecosystem coming together to help these women succeed.
That kind of progress in these recent years made me think back to the VC landscape as I experienced it. I’ve noticed inequality and the lack of diversity for years, with never any pressure for progress—no one insisted on hiring female candidates or encouraged women to venture into leadership roles. But today, there are VC groups run by women and dedicated to funding women-led companies, which is a newer concept that wouldn’t have even been given a second thought back then. I wish these were all things I was contributing to 10, 15, 20 years ago, and it bothers me that I haven’t been acting on it earlier.
At my firm, there were few women around the office, such as HR staff and entrepreneurs in residence, and that was assumed to be enough. Because no one thought more about it, recruiting more women fell through the cracks. When finally deciding to follow through with that motion, though, it led to pushback from male partners. The issue here was many of these women were smarter than the men, which can be a big hit to the ego for some. Trying to hire a female partner saw the same results when taken to a vote: it was an easy no for these old-school guys. It can be incredibly tough to break old habits and patterns.
So, this is why I am starting The Allyship. Alongside the Canadian digital marketing agency, Ethical Digital, we’ve launched The Allyship as a social impact project focused on promoting gender parity in the investment community. I think of the VC culture that I’m all too familiar with, and I’m committed to being an ally to encourage more women in this space to change it.
The Allyship’s goal is to accelerate the current pace of social change and alongside our partners, get at least 30% of women to make up the space in the investment industry by 2035. Considering the 90/10 that the community is at now, it’s a small step forward, but forward nonetheless. Things are slowly getting better, and we’re hoping to accelerate the movement toward even greater equity and inclusion.
The Allyship is gathering research to share the shocking numbers and push for change, and we’re also launching a podcast to put these statistics into perspective. On ‘Passing the Mic: The VC Exchange,’ we’ll be interviewing seasoned VCs, fresh faces in the investment community, and female founders to hear about their experiences and personal advice on how we can push the needle for encouraging and empowering more women in venture capital.
Diving into the minds of North America’s leading VCs, their real stories and insider knowledge is what we need to understand the closed network of venture capital. Episodes will venture down new learning paths to ignite conversations about the most relevant issues women in VC face today and how to solve them.
There are significant opportunities to cultivate and promote the untapped potential for women, so join me in becoming an ally to push for diversity in venture capital. I’m excited to see what kind of progress we can make together.