Last week, Sir Michael Moritz, the erudite and thoughtful leader of Sequoia Capital, was interviewed - and in this interview gave as his reason for not hiring (or backing) women was that he wasn't prepared to lower his standards.
Wrong in so many ways. So, this: my note to Sir Michael, published now at Re/Code.
On 3rd December, 2015 you said how you’re unable to bring enough women into venture capital because they don’t meet your standards. I take you at your word, that you mean well, and that you want Sequoia to be blind to race, gender, and other non-professional attributes. Let me, however, share with you how you have become part of the problem you say you wish to solve. Each of the following four points - and there are more yet besides these - shape why and how women are held back from leadership. I ask that you join in breaking these.
- Silicon Valley culture rewards confidence (swagger) over competence (capability). Over and over again, we all have seen promotions, credit, and investment funding going NOT to the person doing the great work, but instead to the tall, good-looking, young white (or - an improvement now - Indian), friend-of-the-investor or friend-of-the-boss male. You, Sequoia and the valley culture need to either accept that leaders need not look like you, not like the dominant stereotype of entrepreneurs, or allow near-sociopathic females, older people, non-whites and non-Indians. You, collectively, are part of the problem.
- Throughout their careers, women are year-by-year, given fewer resources, less funding, smaller labs, smaller teams, less credit. After 10 years of only getting, say, 95% of what their male colleagues are awarded, women are left far behind (0.95^10 = 0.6). The cumulative diminution of female achievements assures that the outcome is fewer women at the top. Asserting that the problem for women is primarily a pipeline problem puts a fig leaf over the actual problem, which is that women are short-changed at so many points after they’re hired that the system makes it far, far harder for women.
- Over and over again we see still that if an investor (or, male executive) finds themselves in dialog with a competent woman and a good-looking man, they typically will ignore the woman and put the questions to the man - even if the man has less competence. Over and over again women bring ideas to meetings and hear them repeated, often nearly verbatim, by a male - at which point the men in the room typically hear them as if for the first time. If you are not consciously fighting these behaviors, you again are part of the problem.
- And then there’s sexual harassment. The behaviors tolerated in some powerful Silicon Valley funds remain appalling. Read the 2014 article in Forbes magazine, about what it is like for a young woman to try and pitch to male, assertive partners in your industry. If you’re not vigorously fighting these behaviors, you are part of the problem, because what woman would actually want to deal with firms where this behavior occurs? What woman would want to work IN firms like this?
I can go on. But this much is true: the culture of Silicon Valley is part of the problem. The specific behaviors inside venture capital is part of the problem. If you are, as you say, interested in solving this problem, then we welcome you to putting your industry clout and financial muscle into solving it. Otherwise, I, and you, should just accept that you’re just part of the problem.