The lack of women founders and CEOs in the technology industry is not the pipeline problem that is so often referred to, says VC funder Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures: “This is a b*llsh*t observation.”
Speaking on the Inspirefest 2015 panel on VC funding and investments, he said: “The fundamental problem, especially in Silicon Valley, is that it loves to think it’s a meritocracy, which is bull. It’s not. It’s a mirror-ocracy,” he claimed, explaining that a male-dominated tech industry likes to work with others similar to them to the detriment of diversity.
While on the subject, Quinton addressed the concept of unconscious bias, saying that this is not always the reason for lack of diversity: “It gives too many guys a free pass. Sometimes they’re just sexist.”
Moderating the panel was Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher, who noted that she has, in the past, called various tech firms out on their lack of women executives with the reaction that “these papier-mâché men” were “super hurt”.
“I asked the former Twitter CEO how it had 10 white men on the board and he said that they just happened to be the most qualified. I’m sure a mathematician would have had a hard time working that one out.”
This unconscious bias runs deep, as noted by Sharon Vosmek, CEO of VC firm Astia, who pointed to MIT research, which found that attractive men were 68pc more likely to get funded than attractive women.
“Unattractive men come second, followed by unattractive women, for some reason, and attractive women are the least likely to get funded,” she said.
Dow Jones research on start-up funding over the past 15 years, however, shows that start-ups with women onboard are less likely to fail than all-male ventures. Furthermore, not a single woman was present in any of the start-ups analysed that outright failed.
“64pc of successful VC-backed exits had at least one female executive,” she added.
Speaking about Enterprise Ireland’s efforts to fund more female entrepreneurs, CEO Julia Sinnamon said: “It’s not an equality issue; it’s only good business sense. We aren’t interested in investing in women because of equality, it’s because we need more good businesses.”
“There’s no point of having one woman on the board. You need 30pc before it makes a difference. A lot of research been done on that 30pc and the facts speak for themselves,” she added.
Up until 2011 only 7pc of ventures funded by Enterprise Ireland (EI) were led by women. In four years this number has risen to 24pc, says Sinnamon, explaining that EI made a decision to change all of its funding and investment advice and literature, which had previously been “written by men for men”.
Vosmek said: “Stop fixing women, fix the ecosystem.” Echoing this sentiment, Swisher cautioned: “While I like Sheryl Sandberg’s book, it shouldn’t be that you have to lean in so much that you fall over.”
Updated 24 June 2015 at 8.36 am: This post was updated to include video of Inspirefest’s Investor Panel.
Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-19 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.
Article by Marie Boran