How to fix the gender balance in start-ups?

unnamedWhen I started angel investing I made a commitment to invest in women.  Almost 70% of the 60 plus investments I have made over the past 8 plus years are either led by a woman entrepreneur or one of the co-founders is a woman.  It has been a very wise decision.  For all of these woman I have invested in their internal motto is failure is not an option.  Not that there is nothing wrong with failure because we can learn a lot from failure but every single one of these women are tenacious, smart, good at leading teams, ask questions and listen to the advice, analyze data and have carrots dangling in front of their noses.  My biggest hope is that all of these women have incredible exits on their businesses because that will make a statement to all the people that dismissed their ideas and their business models.
I thought a lot about the question that was posed this week.  A few things came to mind because it is not just about gender balance in start-ups but gender balance in every business.  Hearing the Becky Hammon was named to the the co-captain of the Spurs is a huge step in the right direction.  To read data that was quoted in the Atlantic that a study of hedge funds owned or managed by women found the funds to have a 8.95% return rate handily beating the 2.69% return rate generated by an index of typical funds sends a clear signal about the value of women.  To read that when Google extended their paid maternity leave for women to five months that their attrition rate decreased by 50% was such a smart decision.  Even an analysis from Fortune records better earnings for women CEOs than their male counterparts.
All of these facts should be talked about in every start-up when they think about who are they going to hire and what is their team going to look like.  Making a decision from the very onset that they are going to have 50/50 balance of men and women employees.  Five years ago I started a conference with my co-founder, Nancy Hechinger, called the Womens Entrepreneur Festival at the ITP division of NYU.  We celebrate and showcase women entrepreneurs.  Women network differently, then run their companies differently and they think differently than men.  We should applaud that.  That is why having a balance of men and women in start-ups is actually one of the real keys to success.  Those successes will hopefully make an impact on the next generation to come so we can stop having these conversations about gender balance. Tossing a universal childcare program in with that would also be a step in the right direction.
This was an article I wrote for the WSJ earlier this week.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I believe in this thesis absolutely. Both in the uniqueness of gender and its impact on a business and world view, and in the power of a mixed/balanced workforce.i work with both and been fortunate in my career to have know many powerful women tech entrepreneurs starting with Heidi Roizen back in TMaker days.

  2. Mario Cantin

    You explain this issue very well, and you’ve driven the point home. I understand the matter differently now. So as opposed to be of the frame of mind that I welcome women to work with me with open arms and have no issue whatsoever about whatever gender I work with; I’ll think seriously about making it a policy that there be an equal gender mix. Thanks.

    1. Gotham Gal


  3. Susan

    And this brought to mind the (Dorothy Parker?) quote: “compared to men, women have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good. Fortunately this isn’t difficult.”

    1. Gotham Gal


  4. Elizabeth Kraus

    I was born in 1981, so thanks to the hard work that previous generations did, I grew up thinking that I had every opportunity that my brother had. I never really thought about gender imbalance until I started angel investing and realizing that I was the only female in the room. But then it worked to my advantage. I stuck out, so people remembered me. I just went with it and didn’t really give it a second thought until I started randomly investing in and with more women. I realized that they had a unique perspective that I had been missing. I also realized that they faced many of the same struggles that I did in life and in business that I had never really identified as struggles as a result of my gender. It was very comforting to know I was not alone. I love working with men, and yes, being the only female in the room often works to my advantage, but I’m now a firm believer in balance. Thanks for promoting it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      so great that you are angel investing and making women a priority

  5. pointsnfigures

    Look forward to the day when it doesn’t matter. I have backed females, minorities, and to me I never look at anything except the person and the idea. If I think they can execute I’ll write a check and back them however I can.I do agree women have different challenges than men. We need to create space where we can. But it’s not necessarily to level the playing field. There are some things that are impossible to change. I can’t have kids etc. More about creating space because having a different set of qualified eyes on the same thing adds a different dimension to analysis, implementation etc. There is a ton of value in having different people around. The angel group I started has A LOT of women in it and it makes it better.One place where changing standards bugs me is the military. The job is the job, and I don’t care what gender you are, if you aren’t physically up to it then you shouldn’t be there. I also don’t care for women in the front lines of combat because of what could happen to them if taken prisoner. Again, since battlefield actions are given preference, we need to make space for the contributions of women off the battlefield so as many women that want to rise to the commanding ranks of general are given the opportunity.On your hedge fund thing-I might quibble a bit with the stats. There is probably confirmation bias in the stats. The sample size of men is much larger so the ROI should be lower-more chance for low performers. The women that are raising money and doing well are probably way over qualified and would have done well no matter what. My gut tells me if an equal number of men and women were given the same amount of money over the same time period, they’d finish about equal.