23 Sep 2020

New Women in Venture Capital Podcast Hopes to Bridge the Gender Gap

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by Ashley Wheeler

Rashveena Rajaram and Anvita
Dekhane

The venture capital (VC) industry has a big problem—a striking lack of women from the top down. According to research from All Raise, a nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate the success of female founders and funders, 68 percent of US VC firms don’t have any female partners. Without women in leadership roles, it becomes difficult for female entrepreneurs to secure funding for their ventures. Frustrated by the lack of female decision-makers, Rashveena Rajaram (MBA 2022) and Anvita Dekhane (MBA 2022) started the Women in Venture Capital podcast after meeting at the Venture Deals Summer 2020 course by Kauffman Fellows and Techstars. The podcast features candid discussions with women in VC—from interns to partners—and their male counterparts, with the goal of addressing the gender disparity in VC and providing aspiring female investors with valuable information, role models, and a strong network.

We chatted with Rashveena and Anvita about the challenges faced by women in VC, how to fix the problem, and what they hope the Women in VC podcast will achieve.

Why is women in VC such an important topic? What are some gender related issues in the venture space?
The venture industry is the backbone of growth in tech and the broader economy but the decision-making behind that growth is simply not distributed equally across all groups.

Decision-making in funding is predominantly driven by white men. We have seen progress recently, with a 42 percent increase in the number of overall female partners and general partners at VC firms from 2018 to 2019, but 68 percent of firms still don’t have a single female partner. It is surprising that the venture industry is so behind in terms of gender representation relative to industries like banking; it might, however, be due to the smaller size of the sector and the lack of tangible efforts to raise awareness on the issue.

The lack of women in VC is particularly problematic for female founders. The latest report on VC funding shows that funding to female-founded and even mixed-gender led startups hovers around 10 percent. It’s fair to attribute a lot of that to the lack of women at the decision table. This lack of funding may act as a disincentive to highly capable female founders to pursue their venture. It is imperative that we change these numbers.

Additionally, there are a lot of smart, capable women out there looking to contribute actively in the venture space as investors but the lack of role models and a strong network makes the process of breaking into a network-heavy industry more challenging for them. We need to work on better representation.

What is it like to be a woman in the investing ecosystem?
It is natural to feel most comfortable when you see people (especially in positions of seniority) like you in your professional setting. A lack of representation puts career progress, appreciation of your work, and confidence for self-advocacy, at risk. That’s what it is like to be a woman in the investing ecosystem. With one in four funds having female representation in decision making positions, it’s harder for women to have someone to look up to.

That being said, there are numerous female investors out there doing an excellent job in a supportive environment. Collaborative, supportive investors do exist in this ecosystem, and they can lend important guidance. While it may seem daunting to be able to break into the industry, it gets smoother for women as they find their culture-fit and grow with organizations that are supportive of women.

What has been your biggest learning after diving into this topic?
There is a strong desire to change the status quo. There are numerous firms and male partners who have recognized the need for diversity in their teams and are working towards changing that—it’s just happening at a very slow pace. We have been very impressed with the willingness and support of women in the industry to share their experience and help guide others. We have received positive responses from every woman we’ve reached out to—many of whom also suggested additional potential guests. It’s been heartwarming to see the support.

How can HBS change the game for women in VC?
HBS has done an excellent job of making resources available to students, whether it’s sector-specific conferences, access to alumni, treks to major hubs, or through highly motivated faculty. As we start the year in this unusual fashion, it’s important that HBS continues their efforts in equipping students with the knowledge, skills, and networks to thrive in the industry.

What are you doing at HBS to help open venture capital as a career path for women?
We are working closely with student organizations on campus and at Stanford and MIT to grow the podcast and host exceptional women who can help guide aspiring female investors. We are also planning a mix of virtual and in person (socially distant) events with women in the tech community so that female founders can better connect with current and aspiring investors and startups, and hopefully collaborate in the future.

What is your goal for the Women in VC podcast?
We want students and professionals aspiring to break into the industry to gain exposure to the multitude of career paths and the women who they can network with and learn from. Great strides are yet to be made in gender representation in the venture industry,and we hope this podcast is a push in the right direction.

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