Venture capital has a diversity problem. It always has.
With white men dominating pretty much every aspect of the tech industry, it's no surprise that venture capital is facing the same struggle. USA TODAY summarizes the disparity – and its effects – well:
A 2011 survey by the National Venture Capital Asssociation and Dow Jones VentureSource found 89% of investors were male and 11% female, while 87% were white. The lack of women and minorities affects who gets funding. Pepperdine University found in a survey last year that female and minority entrepreneurs were significantly less likely to raise venture capital than their white, male counterparts.
New ideas are vital to Silicon Valley's ability to innovate and create wealth. But if white guys ideas' are the only ones being funded, then who's going to benefit? That's right: white guys.
If we want to create a society that's better for everyone, we need women and minorities to join the conversation.
The National Venture Capital Association is gearing up for the nation's first official "Demo Day," a high-profile event held just hours ago at the White House that aimed to "showcase technologies from the nation's diverse set of entrepreneurs and kick off a new initiative to bring greater diversity to the tech world." (USA TODAY)
In a letter sent to President Obama, the National Venture Capital Association pledged "to advance opportunity for women and underrepresented minorities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem."
How are they going to accomplish this?
These are among the first steps they hope to take, according to USA TODAY:
=> Conduct and share research that measures diversity at venture capital firms and their portfolio companies.
=> Develop model human resources policies that encourage more inclusive work environments.
=> Participate in programs to encourage women and minorities to pursue careers as entrepreneurs or venture capitalists.
But will it be enough?
Two words: no way. In my opinion, you can make all the change you want at the industry level, but you still won't see women and minorities flooding tech positions. Why? Because the factors keeping these groups out of tech start so much earlier.
We need to see changes on an educational level.
I just graduated college from an elite university, where it just didn't feel like it was a possibility for me to pursue a career in computer science. All my friends that were doing so were white males who had excelled at math and science for their whole life. I'm pretty damn good at math and science myself, but that never felt to me like a place where I could hang my identity. I'm a girl, after all, and girls are good at English, and language, and art. And because these guys had been more open than I in their pursuit of STEM-related excellence, they were the ones who ended up "equipped" to pursue a future in tech.
Why didn't a young me feel it was possible to be a scientist? Or a doctor? Or a hacker?
Back when I was 12, I taught myself two programming languages and learned to code my own games and websites. I read numerous technical volumes on how computers work, on programming in Java and C++. I wanted to be a hacker when I grew up.
But when I took a text printout of some code I had written to school for our show and tell day, I remember the kids in my class calling me weird. No one encouraged me, not even my teacher.
Why wasn't being a hacker an okay dream for 12-year-old me to have?
In order for these measures to have any effect at all, they need to go deeper. This isn't some small, insignificant problem. According to the NY Times,
In 2013, Facebook hired 1,200 new employees. 7 of them were black.
This NEEDS to change, and it needs to change now.
So what can the National Venture Capital Association do in order to actually make an impact?
=> Increase STEM programs for young women. Start young. Teach girls to code. Introduce young women to the world of investing. Spread the message that STEM fields aren't "just for boys."
=> Make it financially possible for coding to be taught in low-income and minority-heavy school districts. Right now, only rich (read: white) school districts have access to the resources necessary to teach in-depth computer classes.
=> Educate people on the harm of doing stupid shit like always assuming doctors are male. Teach kids and adults alike that stereotypes are not only ignorant – they're harmful.
=> Invest in more startups led by women and minorities. Hire more women and minorities. In other words, DO BETTER.
I believe that if we take care to educate people on this lack of diversity, and continue to invest our resources in changing it, we can overcome inequality in technology. But it's going to take time, and good ideas, and smart people dedicated to making a big change. Let's not give up, people – we have the power to change our world.
What are some other ways to combat Silicon Valley's lack of diversity?