Fighting inequality with silence.
I was recently asked to be part of a panel about VC and fundraising at a technology conference. I very much enjoy speaking opportunities. It’s an effective way to reach impressive entrepreneurs and build awareness within the industry and hence plays a reasonably important part in my job as a VC.
About one week leading up to the event I was talking to the event organizers and the panel moderator preparing me for the event. During this conversation we discussed various topics to cover. How to raise capital, differences in fundraising in Europe and the U.S, and all the other good stuff VCs tend to talk about. But in addition to that, the moderator suggested we also talk about gender and what the tech and VC community do to bridge the gap between men and women. The outcome of the discussion was that we were all asked to prepare a few examples for the panel of what we had done to bring forward women in my companies and career.
I left this panel preparation feeling discontent. Not to the event, the organizers, the moderator or the other panel participants. And not to the topic of gender equality. But rather to the fact that the industry is clearly not doing enough.
For many years I have been like most men in the tech industry. I have supported gender equality. I have talked about it privately and professionally. I have argued for why more perspectives lead to more creativity which leads to true innovation. I also happen to be married to a female tech entrepreneur, meaning I often have heard first-handed about the challenges faced and how she often is mistaken for someone’s subordinate or, even worse, a man’s partner rather than a leader and true entrepreneur. I have carried these equality believes for many years. These talks and thoughts have even made me from time to time feel proud of myself for being such an equalist, convincing myself that this mindset will eventually help solve the issue at hand. And I have plenty of examples that I could think of throughout my professional life where I had deliberately tried to bring forward women and pushed for equality.
So here I am. Preparing for a panel, many years after my and the tech industry’s equality believes have been rooted, asked to talk about fundraising and how to bring forward women in our industry. 4 people on stage. 3 men…and 1 woman. If I truly believe in equality, should I accept this?
What makes me entitled to be up on stage? A privileged white man who never had to suffer from negative preconceptions or prejudice based on my race, gender or religion. On a panel dominated by white men. The more I thought about it, the more I realized my participation felt counterintuitive. Regardless if the topic is talking about how to raise venture money, how to build a company or even gender equality.
This because one of the most important things we can do to bridge the gender gap is to bring forward intelligent and amazing female technology professionals and allow them a voice and stage. Change preconceptions about the norm of what a VC, entrepreneur or executive look like. Create role models. Why should I claim the spotlight for my own direct benefits, in an already male-dominated panel, when my values believe in something different?
A few days before the event I reached out to the event organizers and the moderator and told them that I forfeited my seat on stage in benefit of a woman. I also volunteered to find a suitable speaker, and it didn’t take long until we had someone who happened to be a much more accomplished investor than myself (I actually didn’t find just one woman but several women..!). The panel turned out amazing! I was there in the audience and I learned a lot.
I hope to continue speaking at events. But in the spirit of equality, whenever I’m asked to speak at an event, I will commit to always push the organizers to have a gender equal speaker roster. And I will volunteer to help find accomplished women if they need to. And as part of that, I will always offer up my seat on stage in benefit of a woman. The truth is, as proven with this event, there are a lot of talented women we can put on stage. We just need to change our habits and proactively bring them forward. We need to apply pressure and help make the voice of equality heard. We need to stop tolerating non-equality.
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. — Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Let’s bridge the gap once and for all. It’s time. 💪 👊
People, if you got this far, please hit the ❤ below. We’re a team right?