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The Boston Globe

Business

Maria Cirino

Lack of women in VC reflects broader bias

In 2006, after a 20-year career in sales, marketing, and management roles in startup companies, I was approached by a former colleague about forming a venture capital firm. As an entrepreneur, my predilection is to start something new. So my firm, .406 Ventures, was born.

Eight years later, the two questions I get most often are “Do I miss running companies?” and “Why aren’t there more women in VC?” As for the first, while there are aspects of running and growing a company that I miss, I am energized by the variety of great companies, teams, opportunities, and challenges that I get to work with on a daily basis.

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As for the second question, I can’t help but see the irony in my own experience; several male colleagues saw venture capital as a logical career step for me and asked me to join their firms. But it remains distressing that there aren’t more women in VC.

Just how great is the imbalance? Dan Primack, who covers venture capital and private equity for Fortune, recently looked at 92 firms that raised over $200 million since 2009. Within that group, only 23 of 542 partner level investors were women— 4.2 percent. That’s less than the paltry 4.6 percent of female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies.

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Of the 92 firms, only 17 had even one senior female partner. Just one, Scale Venture Partners of Forest City, Calif., had at least three senior women partners. In an industry where success depends on being visionary, this lack of women is shortsighted, undermining the power that diverse outlooks can bring.

I recently asked a friend in VC why there were no female partners in his firm. He recounted in great detail the number of women candidates his firm interviewed and the lengths taken to ensure that women were equally considered. His experience unfortunately corresponds to ours. There are far fewer female than male candidates and women offered positions chose to pursue other opportunities.

It would be easy to pin gender inequity problems on VC firms, but the problem is broader. The traditional paths to a VC career lead from success as a venture-backed entrepreneur, deep expertise in engineering and technology, or both. Unfortunately, gender bias has erected barriers to women in these areas, too.

In a 2013 Harvard study, for example, researchers presented pitches of companies seeking venture funding. Investors heard the same pitch from male and female voices. The results: investors selected pitches presented by males nearly 70 percent of the time.

I have shared these figures with colleagues and the reaction has been universal — surprise and dismay. VCs are data driven. We know numbers are our friends — they never lie.

Change, however, could come quickly. The entire industry comprises a few hundred active firms. If every firm made one woman a partner over the next five years, the percentage of women partners would increase to more than 20 percent.

Many male VC partners have daughters who might just make terrific entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. Let’s hope they’re not “biased out” of our field.

Maria Cirino is co-founder and managing director of .406 Ventures, a Boston venture capital firm focused on early stage technology investments.
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