Diversity Should be #1 for Good Reason

I began investing in women over a decade ago. It was a major part of my investing thesis. Why? Twelve years doesn’t seem like a lot of time but in the world of technology it is a long, long time ago.

People Just Weren’t Listening

Through my blog, Gotham Gal, I started to talk to founders—often women—who were having a hard time raising capital, or even getting anyone on the other side of the table to understand the opportunity in their business or, more to the point, connect with them. I heard from women with amazing companies that would help women, and from women with simply great companies… yet I heard from them, over and over, that people just weren’t listening.  

I listened. And I invested.

I invested in businesses that I believed had a huge opportunity that could grow to be worth $100M or more. Of course, sometimes what I see others don’t—but nobody at that time was talking to these women.

This was the reason I started the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival with Nancy Hechinger at ITP/NYU. It was the reason I began writing a piece every Monday called the Women Entrepreneur of the Week, and then evolved that Monday piece into a podcast where I get the opportunity to speak to women founders, and I could make sure that plenty of people could really hear their voices, their passion, and their entrepreneurial brilliance.

On that podcast, I recently spoke with Nadia Boujarwah, Co-founder of Dia & Co, a shopping and styling resource for plus-sized fashion. Nadia spoke to me about the countless times that she tried to explain to (male) audiences the huge potential market—according to her, more than 60% of American women fit size 12 or above—and the importance of style to this growing segment of the population. Over and over, she was turned down. They didn’t get it. But she continued to persevere and prove that model, and just last fall Dia & Co raised a $40 million Series C.

I want to believe that smart businesses with big opportunities will always find investors. But if too few investors aren’t really listening to women entrepreneurs, then inevitably, some potentially great businesses are going to fail for lack of capital. It’s bad business to discount half the population for reasons that have nothing to do with business.

Just Do It

This is what I tell every woman founder I know who is in a relationship or married and who wants to have children: just do it and do it now.

I sit on the board of a company whose founder took that advice and got pregnant. She told me first, before letting the board or even the company know. She had planned everything around how long she would be out, how the company would be managed during this time, the whole shebang. I told her do not do that.

My advice: Just simply tell them you’re pregnant, this is your due date, how excited you are, and that’s it. No need to micromanage your pregnancy for the company. This is life. It will play itself out just fine. After all, men don’t go to these lengths when they have children, so why should women have to come up with all these excuses and strategies?

She took my advice, the board said congrats, we moved on with the meeting, and the same thing happened when she told the company. She went on to have a second child as well. Guess what? The company is doing just fine.  

I have invested in many founders who have had children while building their companies, and guess what? They become even better leaders and managers. But none of this is shocking to me, and that is the reason I have done all of this.

Diversity Works—And So Do Women Entrepreneurs

I am not being philanthropic when I help women entrepreneurs to rise up. I believed that I would make a solid return on every single woman I invested in.

I am thrilled that many institutional investors have begun to see the light: making a full-on commitment to investing in more women, bringing on more women partners, and pushing companies to have more diversity. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to google “diversity + business” and see the slew of articles around better ROI, better cultures, happier workers, and more to understand that diversity works and so do women entrepreneurs.

What is most amazing to me about women founders is their survivor mentality. I am invested in some women who are building their businesses with very little capital because they are profitable and are in it for the long-haul. I have invested in others that are starting to hit their stride, and although they were not at a valuation of $90M in two years, they were there in six. It takes time to build a solid business, and I applaud every founder who has the constitution to plow forward against all odds. I see that tenacity in women founders. I also see and admire their transparency and honesty with their investors.

Perhaps it is because I am not a VC but an angel investor, who sits in the unique position of being a consigliori to each of the founders I invest in, but they all ask questions and are honest about the good and bad things happening in the company. I have seen women founders speak up at board meetings and say that something is not working, rather pretending that everything is fine. In fact, time and time again, at the start of a business women tend to be so honest and forthright about their model and numbers that they come across as demure.

Yet I can name ten women founders—if not more—who as their business starts to grow and they surpass that Series A take on a totally different persona of power. They have learned that they own it and that they get their business better than anyone else at the table. I had one founder turn down capital from a top VC because she knew that they did not truly get her business—all they saw were the numbers, and those are very different things. It was a bold move, but in the end, she trusted her gut and figured out how to make it work with the right set of investors, who might not be name brands but understood the cadence of her business.  

Diversity: A Non-Negotiable Term

I have invested in men, too, but they are all committed to diversity because they believe in it and understand how it makes them better founders. If every investor would make it a non-negotiable term that the companies they invest in must make diversity a priority, the results would be huge. It might not be easy to do, but it can be done. Many of the companies I have invested in have done it.

We shouldn’t be looking at changing the ratio of women entrepreneurs because it is a buzzword of this moment, or because it looks good—but because financially, it works.

Maybe this is the moment when incremental change tips into transformation, and everyone starts listening to women entrepreneurs. I hope so. I’ll still have plenty of investment opportunities: there are enough great women entrepreneurs to go around. And there will be still more if investors start paying attention to them.    

This piece is also published with Techstars today.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Epic post!

    1. Gotham Gal


  2. awaldstein

    Good one.Diversity is simply the only core answer to growth, to culture, to politics.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Yes it is.

  3. julie

    You are such a breath of fresh air! I enjoy your blog posts as well as your podcast. Always a learning experience!

  4. LE

    Really really good post.’They didn’t get it.’Amazing and exactly what happened with Sara Blakely and Spanx when she pitched that to manufacturers.

  5. Elli Papadopoulos

    I love all your posts but, as a female founder and a mama, this one struck a chord.First, to your point about “just getting pregnant” and not worrying what others think – spot on! Life truly does work itself out although – WOW – it doesn’t come with sleepless nights and stress. I do find that the majority of the time, with both partners working, the mama usually has the greater childcare / household lift and it’s up to us to not be a super woman and reach out for help. Being financially sufficient is also super helpful as we can pay for things that help achieve a balance (cleaning, childcare, vacations to unwind, etc.)Second, to your point about Diversity – YES! An old friend and good colleague is very passionate about the gender and racial wealth gap said something thought-provoking the other day: Inclusion drives diversity. Diversity is the product and inclusion is the act. I find that many people believe in diversity but don’t go out of their way to cultivate it. In my experience, influencing that mind set in a corporate, middle-market or small business setting is a big effort. We’re fortunate to be in progressive NYC and we’re getting there nationwide, but boy do we have a long way to go.Thanks for all you do to walk the walk!!

    1. Gotham Gal


  6. lisa hickey

    This is great! Normalize women as leaders. More of that please!

  7. jason wright

    What size ipad Pro did you get?

  8. Kumba

    If only there wasn’t as much man-hating in your post, it would be worth a decent read, with some valid points.1. Women founders tell you it’s not easy to get funded. As an investor myself, I ask you to stop victimizing based on just gender and consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe their ideas sucked? Or it wasn’t viable from a business perspective? Most female founders who approached me almost always fell into this category. It’s basically not being aware of how the market works, or not even knowing what their target audience looks like.2. “After all, men don’t go to these lengths when they have children, so why should women have to come up with all these excuses and strategies?”This is why you sound like a man hater. Do you know how men even manage their personal lives when their wives are pregnant or have just given birth? In fact, you sound so arrogant when you say this, because as far as I’m aware, MOST companies offer maternity leaves, but very few offer paternity leaves. Imagine, being a man and having to be in a situation where you don’t even have a day off on some of the most important days during the pregnancy or when your wife needs you the most. Sympathize, instead of painting men like villains. I know SO MANY women who face this without their husbands beside them caught in the job.3. Diversity: A Non-Negotiable TermThis is perhaps the most depressing conclusion of this article. I hope you would encourage more talented PEOPLE rather than just throwing money at someone just because they belong to your gender. Worse yet, doing so by accusing the opposite gender of being evil and having life easy. I also hope you’d start encouraging more women to enter construction, mining, and other low level jobs which aren’t financially attractive, yet dominated by men mostly..if you truly believed in equality.Sorry, but your article sucks.

    1. Lee Chang

      well said..exactly my thots..

    2. Nathan Appere

      1. You should “consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe,” you might be biased in your reasoning (the “man-hating” part of your comment should already be a decent clue). It is really too bad there aren’t more sociological studies that outline these kind of biais. Oh wait!2. A bit circular. Given that management is still ≃75% men, it is technically men who do not offer paternity leaves. So the issue might be, well, men in a position to change these policies who don’t?3. If you hire senior, it is too late as the gap in representation is already too high. When you hire junior, it is almost always a matter of giving someone who seems to have a really high ceiling a chance. It is way easier to make sure you create a diverse team by sourcing the right junior candidates.3 (bis). The “equality” example you use is crap. There are already plenty of low paying jobs that have a higher representation of women, so there is zero need to create the kind of “equality” you describe for low comps. And if you are genuinely interested by the numbers (or any study on the subject really) you’ll see that even there women earn less on average, so it is inequal, with a win for, on average… you guessed it, men.

      1. Kumba

        Go be a white knight else where for fuck’s sake..

        1. Nathan Appere

          Genuinely curious, how does this apply differently to you in your point of view?(Also not quite sure how it is “being a white knight” if that is what you believe in and you react to arguments that seem completely illogical to you, which is what I believe you were doing. Not sure why your views would carry more weight, since again, it is not backed by more data either.)

      2. Kumba

        If you have the guts, say it openly, don’t create a fake profile just to attack me…miss “Gotham Gal”

        1. Nathan Appere

          Two things:- Again, not a fake profile, real name, french engineer here- I don’t quite understand why you would think you are “under attack”, except if you think you were “attacking” in the first place (I will admit it was fun to reuse the same tone as your original comments, but I stand by the content of what I wrote.)

  9. Lee Chang

    > We shouldn’t be looking at changing the ratio of women entrepreneurs because it is a buzzword of this moment, or because it looks good—but because financially, it works.do you have citations for this claim? otherwise, you r just throwing more buzzwords

    1. Gotham Gal

      I have invested in 120 companies with 75% of them being female founders. If you paid attention to what I wrote, then you would see that I agree. Investments should be made if it makes sense financially, period. I am not convinced that many of the investors on the other side of the table have understood the tremendous opportunities that they might have lost out on because they didn’t get the market that a female was building a business around.

      1. Kumba

        First of all, that is anecdotal, next, 75% of 120 still a miniscule datapoint compared to the MASSIVE claim that you’re making (that funding females financially works)..so..you’re not really proving anything here other than throwing buzzwords..

        1. Nathan Appere

          Sure it is very possible that she is just on right side of variance. But at the same time, all she is saying is that it has worked for her, with some data that shows a positive signal. At worst, it is qualitative feedback but it is interesting.If you have any statistically significant example that investing in female founded company lead to a worst outcome, do share. Otherwise you are doing the exact thing you are criticizing, with zero data to show for.

          1. Kumba

            Your argument holds true if I had claimed the opposite; except, I didn’t claim that hiring women leads to a worse outcome, all I’m saying is she can’t make such erroneous claims based on such tiny data points mixed with anecdotal evidence. Like I said, go be a white knight else where

          2. Nathan Appere

            How is this not valuable as a positive signal, until you have the numbers to know where you land on statistical significance? (That’s exactly how you would approach product: test, double down on something that show promise).Also, if you are unbiased, why use “erroneous”? You present no data or even qualitative / anecdotal evidence to suggest this is wrong. As is, you can only argue it is unverified.

          3. Kumba

            Let me explain it in simple programming terms – you say the value of X is 1 ‘based on my experience’ therefore, the value of y is also 1. All I’m saying is the way you arrive at a conclusion of ‘x = 1’ is false, therefore you can’t conclude y is also 1, because that is…erroneous.

  10. Kumba

    So, a woman who had it easy by marrying a rich MALE investor is telling other women how men have it easy and women don’t, and is telling them what to do with their lives? Whoa..color me surprised..miss high horses

    1. Nathan Appere

      Why would this even matter? (As in: maybe try to use data or any decent argument to make your point?)Would you even have posted this if she had married a rich FEMALE investor?

      1. Kumba

        Hahaha, at first, I was surprised to see a random account replying to every comment of mine, like most feminists do when pointed out with their flaws, then when I looked at your profile – it’s so obvious you created a fake profile to attack me instead of using your real reputation. Haha, how classy. This is why most people try to avoid women in tech, thanks to people like you who do crap like this. Thank god you aren’t my investor.

        1. Nathan Appere

          I am on Google / Twitter / Linkedin with the same handle (so not quite as fake as you seem to think), never used Disqus comment system before.On the other end I have no idea who you are based on your nickname (and I personally don’t care, seems quite irrelevant).Also, you forgot to answer the questions.I still fail to see how who you decide to marry is something to consider to judge the points made in the article.Even if you find it personally ironic, if you apply your own logic you will see that it is not data based and purely anecdotal, which is what you seemed to have a problem with in the first place.

      2. Kumba

        This matters because your career is literally built on top of a wealthy man’s and yet here you are trying to paint an opposite picture of how women are superior to men and how all men are evil. The irony.

        1. Nathan Appere

          But she never said women were superior to men.If gender is not a relevant criteria in term of company outcome (like for instance, someones height), and assuming enough investment opportunities, you can use it as an arbitrary criteria to fill the pipe and find companies. If you are right and gender did not matter, at worse it is a wash.The added benefit is to create more role models in the industry, which makes it in turn more attractive for minorities. (And I have a hard time seeing the downside, as it is growing anyway and there seems to be room for everyone.)Also I have no personal knowledge about the source of her income (or yours) and that seems quite irrelevant, her investment thesis might still hold (and anecdotally seem to be).

  11. Kumba

    She is very wealthy and so is her husband (Fred Wilson). I think it’s a bit tone deaf for her to just give such stark life advice as if it’s that easy for 99% of the population.

  12. Janelle Aldora Benjamin

    This post reminded me that I owe you a ‘thank you’. Seven years ago you wrote a similar Just Do It post. So I started my company, had my baby, got funding, and 6 months ago got acquired. So…thank you! You were right! JB

    1. Gotham Gal


  13. Jessie Arora

    Cheers. Great post!