Award-winning actress Geena Davis, who started a foundation to study how women are portrayed in the media, spoke at the Women Presidents’ Organization in April and said women make up just 17 percent of the population in Congress, among film narrators and in crowd scenes in movies.
“It almost seems like you have to go deliberately out of your way to leave out that many women,” Davis said.
Those aren’t the only places it seems that way. An informal survey of a half-dozen, high-profile venture capital firms in Silicon Valley makes that 17 percent seem like a good number.
The survey was prompted by a May 10 lawsuit by VC partner Ellen Pao, who said she was the target of discrimination at legendary firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. And by a follow-up story in the New York Times that said her allegations were surprising given that in male-dominated Silicon Valley, “You don’t really hear about randiness and mistreatment of women. That doesn’t prove it’s not there, but that’s not the lore.”
BoingBoing.net commentator Xeni Jardin noted in her takedown of the Times story, “Well, duh. If a VC firm does not hire any women VCs, then there are no women VCs at the firm to sexually harass.”
Which begs the questions: just how many women VCs are there in Silicon Valley? And, more importantly, if there aren’t that many — strictly based on the numbers — what do the VC firms have to say about it?
The 11 Percent
The National Venture Capital Association says the average number of women who identify themselves as “investors” at U.S. firms is 11 percent, according to a November 2011 survey with Dow Jones Venture Source. And though it doesn’t break out VC stats by region, the NVCA found there were more women investing in science and tech than working on non-tech industry investments. Specifically:
The life sciences and clean technology industries had the highest percentage of women investors at 18 percent and 15 percent respectively. Information technology (IT) followed with women representing 12 percent of business-to-business IT investors and 11 percent of consumer IT investors. The lowest percentage of women investors was in the non-high tech products and services sector at eight percent.
That would suggest Silicon Valley firms should have a higher than average number of women investors, given that they invest in things like IT, clean tech and life sciences. Nope. Looking at six prominent firms in California’s techland — Kleiner, Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital and Greylock Partners — the combined average was just 6.7 percent.
The number is based on taking a look at the makeup of each firm from as good a public source as I could find: their corporate website. (FYI: The firms were chosen based on input from Forbes staff before any assessment of their investing staff was made.)
The math: Four firms have zero women investment partners. Kleiner says 25 percent of its investments partners are women. Accel says 15 percent.
The focus was on counting women investment partners, rather than partners working on some other aspect of operations, since investing is where the power lies in VC firms, as Pao’s 16-page lawsuit makes clear.