Last week I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Tech.eu Summit in Brussels. The panel was titled ‘Diversity & Inclusion: from buzzwords to real action’ and was based on the depressing statistics that roughly 1-2% of venture capital investment into startups makes its way to women-founded startups, 5-6% went to mixed-gender founding teams, and the remaining 92-94% lands in the hands of all-male founding teams.
The panel was moderated by the wonderful Robin Wauters who is the Editor and founder of Tech.eu. Joining me on the panel was Anna Wnuk, Head of Community at European Women in VC and Ladi Greenstreet, the CEO of Diversity VC. Separately, I’ve written about the Summit itself and Robin and the team getting it right when it came to gender diversity and inclusion.
As each panel was only 20 minutes there wasn’t enough time to fit in all the things we wanted to explore, especially bearing in mind Astia has been working to level the investment playing field for women for 20 years and I’ve been there for the last 14 years! So here are some further thoughts, that I wished I had the time to tell:
As investors we need to change our process to reach the full ecosystem of entrepreneurs and look beyond the networks we know. If we don’t take intentional actions as GPs, our portfolio will look very predictable bearing in mind the investment data published over the last 20 years. At Astia, we use our Expert Sift process, which is a tried and tested model that enables us to make fairer decisions and eliminates bias from the investment process. An important social construct that we need to remind ourselves of everyday as investors is that capital doesn’t flow across gender lines so we have to be intentional to change the process to ensure that we change the continually dismal investment statistics of venture capital being deployed into underrepresented teams.
Statistics show there are roughly 300 women at partner level in the European VC community but studies suggest that the proportion of women decision makers in investment firms is effectively declining. However, it’s not enough to just increase the number of female decision makers at the investment table – they must be given agency, within a “supportive” culture and there must be leadership from the top. A tokenistic approach to solving the gender imbalance is not going to work.
Despite the ever depressing investment statistics, the good news is that we all have agency to take actions to drive change:
- Entrepreneurs and leaders of high-growth businesses can hire a diverse team of talent, and ensure they are paid equitably whatever their gender or ethnicity
- GPs/investors can take intentional actions to invest in companies that builds a portfolio that is reflective of the society we all live in
- There are an increasing number of LPs that care about a more equitable venture capital ecosystem (that ultimately increases investor returns, and can ask more questions during Due Diligence, which we welcome more
Beyond the panel conversation last week, a common thread I heard throughout the Summit that I don’t agree with is that “good founders and good businesses will get funded” and “the ecosystem is flush with capital”. Honestly, it began to grate….Whilst there is dry powder, the data clearly shows that it isn’t being deployed in all the good founders as I encounter women and people of colour time and time again who are excelling at scaling their businesses but venture capital still isn’t reaching them.
These thoughts reflect on diversity and inclusion as it relates to gender. I know the work we need to do as a venture capital ecosystem doesn’t stop there. During his moderation of our panel, Robin rightly highlighted people of colour and immigrants, people without a university or college degree, the need to counter ageism, and include people from difficult socio-economic backgrounds and make them feel welcome in the system. More from me to come on that, in the meantime you can read Astia’s thought leadership paper “Astia Edge: our failure to invest in Black founders and what we have done about it”.