Do you need a STEM Degree to be a successful VC? The answer is No.
(And that should not be the excuse for why there aren’t more women in venture capital.)
According to Sequoia Chairman Mike Moritz, a STEM degree is a prerequisite for success as a tech investor, but only if you’re a woman. His explanation to Emily Chang that Sequoia’s lack of women partners is the fault of 12 year old girls who fail to study the sciences in school just doesn’t ring true.
The question his assertion raises is: In order to be successful in the venture capital business, is a STEM degree required? The data strongly suggests it is not.
Let’s take a look at this year’s Midas List — a widely recognized measure of success in venture investing.
Among the top 100 VCs on the list, 95 are men and 58 have a STEM BS or MS degree. That’s 61%. Of the 5 women, 4, or 80%, have a degree in STEM. So the total among VCs top investors is 62% with STEM degrees. Which means that 38% of the industry’s top producers don’t have a degree in STEM. By this measure, it’s hard to conclude that a STEM education is a requirement for success. Does it help? Perhaps. But is it needed. The answer is no.
Just look around us. VC firms, including Sequoia, are full of successful investors with non-tech backgrounds. Peter Fenton, Peter Thiel and Mary Meeker took their degrees in Philosophy, Business, Finance and Law all the way to the top and are considered some of the industry’s superstar business builders and wealth creators.
In fact, even Mike came into the industry as a History major who started out as a journalist. He attributes his success not to his education, but to “great luck” and the fact that legendary Sequoia founder Don Valentine “took a risk on me.” Valentine no doubt realized that success requires a special mix of intellect, hard work, passion, personality, imagination and drive. Plus a little luck. That’s true whether you’re a man or a woman.
To quote Mike’s mentor Valentine, “the art of listening is infinitely more powerful than speaking.” As an industry, we need to listen to each other and to ourselves when it comes to how we judge talent and potential. And when it comes to hiring, let’s set the bar for women at the same level we set it for men.
We can’t wait for the next generation of women to enter the workforce before we address this issue.