Sharon Vosmek: ‘Less than 5pc of venture capital goes to women’ (video)

22 Jun 2015

Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, at Inspirefest 2015 last week.

Men and women still operate in separate business networks and, as a result, women will continue to get a smaller share of venture capital, Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek told Inspirefest 2015. She said less than 5pc of funding in Silicon Valley goes to female founders.

“As you watch women-led companies grow, those businesses that have inclusive teams will generate higher revenues,” Vosmek said.

“We as investors are seeking out the next innovation and this requires the best team performance. We look for group intelligence where team performance leads to innovation.”

Vosmek said that this approach belies the broader approach to venture investment in Silicon Valley, where male investors will tend to favour investing in males who are “a reflection of themselves, their experiences and their values”.

“The fact that belies the reality in my investment landscape. For the last 15 years of Astia, 95pc of partners who make investment decisions are men. Consistently for 15 years this has correlated to the percentage of investment going to men. Just 5pc of venture capital goes to women CEOs.”

Vosmek said that this trend is profound and enduring.

“An attractive white man is 68pc more likely to receive funding than an attractive white woman.”

Vosmek said that this is not an organisational issue for the venture firms – it runs much deeper than that.

“Venture capital, much like board and executive seats, is a relationship business. You receive venture investment when a trusted business relationship is established.

The hidden bias in Silicon Valley

She said that as a result there is a hidden bias. “Men and women in society are in separate business networks. In order for us to change the dynamics we need to get more women into executive suites, we must do business with the opposite gender.

“Organisational leadership should bring men and women in as peers,” Vosmek said.

“If we value inclusive innovation, men and women are integral to high-performing teams.

“Stop trying to fix women – we want access and opportunity. And first and foremost we want investment.”

Volmek’s comments were echoed in a subsequent panel discussion chaired by Re/Code’s Kara Swisher when Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures said that Silicon Valley is a place that talks about meritocracy but doesn’t practice what it preaches.

“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 added that often what Silicon Valley venture investors are looking for is stereotypes; “the guy who went to Stanford, a certain pattern of success…

“I would like to call time-out on unconscious bias – that is just an excuse for people to do bad things. Sometimes it is just sexist,” Quinton said.

Updated 24 June 2015 at 9.16 am: This post was updated to include video of Sharon Vosmek’s Inspirefest keynote address. 

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years