If you’ve been following along with my content for a while or you’re familiar with my investment thesis, you know of my commitment as an ally for women in venture capital. The world of venture capital has historically been male-dominated, but that landscape desperately needs to change. In 2022, U.S. startups with all-women teams received just 1.9% (or around $4.5 billion) out of around the $238.3 billion in venture capital allocated.
And those low numbers affect who is receiving funding.
The road to gender equity is a long one, and allies play a crucial role in supporting and advocating for women in venture capital.
Leveraging my position and determined to use my influence to push the needle toward gender parity, I started a podcast called Passing the Mic: The VC Exchange. Intended to provide a platform for women to share their insights and experiences, I am passing the mic to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, executives, and other leaders to allow them to share their stories and advice—helping support the success of other women in the industry or those looking to break into the industry.
It’s important to note that this podcast and being a committed ally is about so much more than just venture capital. We have a shortage of women in ALL areas of innovation—VCs, entrepreneurs, C-suite executives. So, this is a call out to get everyone’s attention and support for women in technology as a whole.
To date, Passing the Mic: The VC Exchange has hosted nine incredible women as podcast guests, each of who have gone on such unique professional journeys. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’d like to highlight a few of the most notable episode highlights and lessons learned from some of these influential women.
Astrid Schanz-Garbassi is an excellent entrepreneur, Tracy Chadwell was a lawyer turned powerful venture capitalist, Jesse Draper started her own VC firm, Michelle McBane is a pioneer for women in VC, and Lisa Marino clawed her way into and on top of the business and financing world.
Pave Your Own Path
For some people, becoming a VC or breaking into the industry at some level can look very traditional: get a business or finance degree from an Ivy League school, gain experience in the industry at a big company, network, and either join or start their own company or firm. But realistically, most people get introduced to the field in more interesting ways.
But entrepreneurs don’t need to be business grads or technologists to start a business; venture capitalists don’t need a traditional finance background to be successful. Changing tomorrow’s VC landscape starts today, and it means breaking patterns. A piece of advice Jesse Draper shared was that:
“You don’t need the background; you don’t need to have gone to the right school; you don’t need the right training. You can always change. You can always change your career. If you’re miserable in whatever you’re doing, you know you’re doing the wrong thing. So start figuring out and hashing out your plan and figure out how you’re going to get to that next phase or trajectory.”
Shaking up who has a seat at the table creates ripples of change: it expands the perspectives of decision-makers so unique people and ideas are being funded (which prove to perform better), works to close the funding gap for female founders, and champions the next generation of women and gender-diverse individuals looking to overcome the barriers of entering the industry.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Before getting too deep in assuming this means fully adopting “bro culture” and settling with venture capital as we know it as a boys’ club—let me reframe this mindset.
According to Entrepreneur, VC-backed startups are still significantly male (89.3%), white (71.6%), based in Silicon Valley (35.3%) and Ivy-educated (13.7%)—that traditional pathway into venture we just mentioned. While problematic, this track record shows some obvious predictability.
In the podcast episode with Lisa Marino, she walked us through her story:
“I needed to learn to play that game. I, for lack of a better term, grew up as a white frat guy, even though I’m a Hispanic female… I played sports, and I didn’t know how to relate to women until later on in my life and in my career… But then because I am a woman, I also have a pair of Jimmy Choo four inch heels on and a great dress or suit. Like, I also understand how that piece of the puzzle works, right? When I’m out raising money, I look the part, but when I open my mouth, I sound not only intelligent; I swear, I can talk about the 49ers and anything in the NBA or college basketball. I can connect with these men on things that they have traditionally grown up with.”
“Joining ‘em” in this sense means learning to connect with men: talking sports, going for beers, or picking up on masculine banter and language. From Lisa’s experience, her natural personality and behaving like “one of the guys” had them opening up. It seems too simple and ridiculous when you think of it, doesn’t it?
The takeaway from knowing how to join this “bro culture” is an opportunity to beat it—to aggressively drive change from the inside out and push the needle on diversity when you’re already through the door.
If You Think It’s Always The Same Old Story, Think Again
While the challenges women face breaking into venture capital is old and tired news, the stories of how women make it happen are all very different and exciting. Astrid Schanz-Garbassi put it thoughtfully when she explained you could admire someone’s success and try to replicate their blueprint, but at the end of the day, chances are what worked for them won’t work for you.
To that, her advice would be:
“Learn how to absorb and assimilate what’s going to work for you, and learn how to tune out and say no to what’s not going to work for you. That is an incredible instinct to hone—to be able to say, ‘I see why that worked in that situation, and it’s an awesome story, but it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m doing,’ or, ‘I see how that person solved that problem, and I think that’s really applicable to what I’m doing, so I’m going to borrow elements of that.’”
Women Support Women (and See Much Stronger Wins)
The lack of diversity in venture capital means there are millions of dollars left on the table. In Jesse’s episode, she stressed the untapped potential of investing in women and the underrepresented opportunity which delivers bigger, outsized returns. A turning point of this realization was on her talk show, The Valley Girl Show:
“I hit this moment where after two seasons of the show, I realized I’d only interviewed men in technology, and I was facilitating this problem [that] I had felt pain from growing up. And so, I made an initiative to interview 50% women in tech. They came in flocks… I started getting pitched [by] hundreds of women.”
When women support women, we start to see this snowball effect of positive changes and influence within the industry. For Michelle McBane, she recalls:
“The leaders of [the] first fund I was with were two women. And so, I’m convinced I would not have been in venture if they hadn’t been leading the fund. They were looking for someone like that. I do believe there’s been a number of amazing role models and part of the reason we call the firm StandUp [Ventures] was a call to action for women to stand up and start their own companies. And we also named the Fund after the little girl standing up to the bull and Wall Street, right? She’s confident, she’s courageous, she’s curious, she’s fearless—she’s everything you look for in founders.”
While important to encourage women supporting women, Astrid made a fabulous point that this shouldn’t mean exclusively. When raising, she emphasized:
“I also really do encourage female founders to continue to approach male investors because a lot of what we talk about with looking to build a bigger coalition of female investors is that the lack of diversity creates lesser outcomes for businesses. And so, by focusing on a solely female investment group, we’re just inverting the problem. We’re still creating a lack of diversity, just the other way. And we’re limiting the types of perspectives that we can get and the potential for the business.”
For equity and diversity to truly exist and be sustainable in the venture capital industry, everyone needs to open their eyes to recognize that opportunities come from all kinds of unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences.
Bet On Yourself
Regardless of how they found their success in venture capital, all these women had one major driving force in common: they took the risk to bet on themselves.
For Tracy Chadwell, her mantra is:
“Fear not. It’s such a simple phrase, but it is something that has just driven me from day to day. There are so many things that we hesitate not to do because we have a fear of either maybe someone won’t believe in us or fear that something won’t work out.”
Betting on yourself makes all the difference—whether breaking into the industry as a venture capitalist, as a founder beginning to approach VCs, or raising your first round, then the next, and so on. Knowing your value and what you have to offer is powerful and helps build trust with potential partners and stakeholders. Astrid’s advice for this is:
“You need to cultivate confidence in yourself and in the vision, and that’s contagious. And ultimately, your confidence will inspire confidence in the teammates around you, which will inspire confidence in potential advisors, which will inspire confidence in potential investors.”
Nothing changes if nothing changes. Change requires risk, and risk requires confidence. Women and men senior leaders, partners, and executives have a crucial responsibility to step up and lead the next generation while becoming allies and using their privilege to amplify underrepresented and unheard voices.
If you found the insights from these episodes valuable, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. If you have any ideas for future guests, feel free to send me a note.
Finally—thank you to all the women who have shared their stories with us. Here’s to celebrating the path they have paved in the industry and helping more women make their mark in the investment ecosystem for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.