How to Hack D&I into Your Venture Day-to-Day

So much has been said condemning the bad behavior brought to light by a few courageous women — most recently in venture-land. But pledges and policies don’t change what ultimately results in bad behavior. If you really want to support women, change what you do every day.

The line of what we consider “normal” behavior needs to move so “decency” isn’t defined as not behaving egregiously, having more women investing partners isn’t viewed as the big solution, or women entrepreneurs don’t feel like they must wear pants for the fear of being sexualized. All the conversations swirling around only show how much this is a tip of the iceberg issue — and the real work lies beneath.

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of venture, and I was shocked at how insular and echo-chambery it was. Last year New York City bested the Bay Area in funding companies with a female CEO for a Series A, but it was only 17%. Doing the work to create the desired future state is the same as company building — hard, daily work.

Starting can feel daunting, but by way of example, here are three concrete things I do on a weekly basis to march toward our firm’s commitment to changing norms around women in tech.

  1. Watch your eye contact and behavior in a pitch. At a recent pitch meeting, the CEO noticeably deferred data, product and business questions to the CMO, a woman. It was clear to me he was making a point of establishing her credibility as an equal part of their executive team and more than just a “marketer”, often the presumed logical slot for a female executive. Two things 1) this signaled a lot about the CEO’s ability to build a diverse company 2) I made a point of intentionally connecting with the CMO — simple smiles and acknowledgments at her answers — so she felt seen in the meeting and had a friendly face to turn to. Super ninja version: make space in any meeting to ensure all voices at a table are heard, even quieter ones (gender aside).
  2. Ensure women are in every hiring pool. Bringing great talent into your portfolio is probably your #2 priority. I still sometimes hear “we’re not willing to lower our standards” when I bring up a lack of women in a company’s leadership. Correct that misperception and point entrepreneurs to where they should look. It may be time to raise someone up and take a chance on her. Or perhaps they need to shift where they’re looking. If a female candidate isn’t the right one for the job, keep her connected as part of your network and be transparent about why she isn’t getting the job so she can learn. If having women in every candidate pool becomes the new normal, even if women candidates aren’t selected for the job, leaders start to get a better sense of how broad the candidate pool can be. And if the hiring pool isn’t, they’ll see they play a part in getting it there. Super ninja version: hold positions open explicitly for diversity candidates. Allocate some portion of your hiring to this over speed.
  3. Be a friend to female founders. In the last two weeks, I’ve met with eight female founders. Not one of them is a good fit for our firm, but they have been so grateful to hear how they need to develop their ideas more before they pitch or what is most important for their next phase. Female and diverse founders all must be held to the same bar as male founders, but detailed and pertinent feedback and resources will increase their chances to succeed as founders. When you look at your weekly networking meetings, make a concerted effort to ensure there are more women, women/diversity-focused events on your schedule.

It’s sad that it takes something as dramatic as women being harassed and a partner resigning for us to all pay attention to how we behave toward women in our industry. But change will only come from constant work by all of us. Of course there are bigger things we can do to help bring about change — in our firm’s case, we try with things like Seat@theTable and our Access Fellowship — but it’s the simple everyday things all of us can do that will bring about change faster. #DiversityAlly