March is Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the contributions of women throughout history and their impact on society. This month serves as a reminder to celebrate women’s achievements and reflect on their role in various industries, including venture capital (VC).
According to the 2020 edition of our VC Human Capital Survey, only 16% of VC investment partners are female. Women like Kate Mitchell, Co-Founder and Partner at Scale Venture Partners, Samara Hernandez, Founding Partner of Chingona Ventures, and Courtney McCrea, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Recast Capital, are blazing a trail for more to enter the industry.
I interviewed these three women (who also serve on the Venture Forward board) for their best advice and insights on succeeding in the venture industry. Read on for their take!
Q: What is your advice to women interested in becoming a VC?
Kate: My first piece of advice for women interested in joining venture capital is to go for
it! My second is to be really shrewd about how, when, and where you want to approach the industry so that you can maximize your chance of building a successful career.
Samara: I’d advise women to generate purposeful momentum and actions toward their
goal of becoming a VC. This involves becoming well-versed with your industries of interest, seeking aligned professional opportunities, building community, and honing your analytical skills.
Courtney: Women are well positioned to outperform in the competitive venture industry.
To decide if it’s the right track for you, talk to venture-backed startups, founders, and VC investors to learn more about best practices, as well as what it takes to become a great VC.
Ultimately, the path to becoming a VC investor differs for each woman. Those with the opportunity to join an established venture fund to apprentice under the guidance of a mentor should consider this possibility. Alternatively, women with entrepreneurial leanings and the contacts and expertise to invest in—and add value to—the entrepreneurs who matter should consider going it alone.
Q: What challenges have you faced as a woman in VC? What roadblocks still exist for women interested in joining VC today?
Kate: One of the most common challenges for women in VC is that although we have a seat at the table, we still need to make ourselves heard. In those moments, having allies in the boardroom who can advocate for you and your ideas goes a long way.
Samara: There are still roadblocks for women interested in breaking into the industry,
including the limited number of roles available at existing funds and the challenges associated with raising a fund as a first-time fund manager. However, I’m encouraged by the progress made in recent years and optimistic about the future of women in VC.
Courtney: There are two elements to being a VC – fundraising and investing. For women, fundraising continues to be a tremendous roadblock. Due diligence questions asked to women and people of color revolve around past accomplishments, while questions focused on the future remain reserved for white male GPs.
That said, women are getting funded and, at the end of the day, fundraising is a numbers game. You get a “no,” pick up the proverbial phone, and call the next person – and the next hundred after that.
Q: What do you think VC firms could do to make the industry more inclusive for women?
Kate: The most important thing a venture firm can do to build an inclusive workplace is to have a champion at the senior partner level. The tone must start at the top and be purposefully built into how the firm runs its business.
Samara: Commit to concrete action. This may look like diversifying talent
pipelines, offering flexibility in the workplace, creating structured mentorship and networking programs for women, and supporting initiatives that promote equity and access to funding for underrepresented groups.
Courtney: There are countless actions VC firms could take to create a more inclusive industry for women. First, executive coaches should be retained to guide communication styles, which helps all members of the firm work better together. Second, all VC firms should make paternal leave mandatory. Unless this happens, women will always be discriminated against when they take maternity leave. Finally, provide mentorship and candid feedback to new hires to help them navigate the venture firm. Most firms are small and quirky, and a guiding hand from the start is important for anyone new to the industry, including women.
Q: What’s a key lesson you’ve learned in your career as a VC?
Kate: Venture capital is a high-risk, high-reward business which also means a high failure rate. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that failure is feedback. Failure doesn’t say ‘you’re not good at this.’ Failure says, ‘you need to hone your stroke.’ Learn from your failures as you grow and build a successful career.
Samara: I’ve learned the importance of values, persistence, and conviction. Venture capital is a long game, and these traits have helped me work through challenging moments inherent to this industry.
Courtney: Self-advocacy is critical. Keep track of all your accomplishments, share them, and seek out the people who can provide solid guidance, advice, and support when you need it most. Believe in yourself and what you can build.
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These words of wisdom are helpful not only for women interested in breaking into VC and building their careers but also for today’s leaders to recognize the opportunities and challenges for increasing gender diversity in the venture community. Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical to ensuring that women of all backgrounds and demographics have an opportunity to succeed in VC.