If you haven’t yet heard about Female Founder Office Hours it is an initiative you should be aware of whether you’re male, female or any other gender identify. The idea is simple enough: several female VC partners at top funds will hold 1-hour meetings with 40 promising female entrepreneurs looking to get advice on their business and pitch in a friendly, non-judgmental, safe environment.
I want to outline why I think this is such an important initiative but first want to be sure you know that my partner Kara Nortman and my friend Eva Ho are hosting the next Female Founder Office Hours in our offices on March 13 and you can sign up here → LA Female Office Hours.
Please help share this widely so that more women become aware of this important resource that is being run nationally. For the LA event, for example, they will not only have a selection of great LA VCs but also 10+ senior VC women from the SF Bay Area will be coming down for it.
So why is this initiative so important for men, women and other gender identities?
1. Mentorship / Modeling Behavior
An important part of leadership is being a role model for those who may come after you to look up and say, “If she can do it then why can’t I?” Female Founder Office Hours gives founders the mentorship and the role models to see that it is in not only possible but also to have a plan to make it a reality.
My partner Kara wrote a great post on the topic that you should read. But I’ll give you one quote that struck a chord with me,
“Since childhood, I have been fortunate enough to be inspired by strong women. My grandmother was one of the first woman to earn a math degree from Columbia and never gave a damn about what women are “supposed to do.” Thanks to her, I never thought much about my identity being defined by being a woman. I always wanted my academic & career achievements to just stand on their own.
Kara is a strong person and a confident leader and it’s clear that she had role models that taught her from a young age that there were no limits to her career potential or doing what she wanted in life. When people provide that kind of modeling you lift up those who come after you and make them better.
I recently read Dan Rather’s book “What Unites Us,” which is a book I highly recommend, in anticipation of interviewing him at the Upfront Summit. He has a section on “Inclusion” and I loved his angle on this term. What he told me was that “inclusion” isn’t about diversity per se as the end goal but the term literally signifies including somebody into work, life or any initiative that changes your perspective. Since our industry has been so heavily dominated by male leadership in both tech and venture capital for so long, this “inclusion” is something that would benefit us all in making better decisions.
In Dan Rather’s book he talks about Ruth Bader Ginsberg who was appointed the the Supreme Court in 1993. Of the 106 judges who preceded her 105 of them were men (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman). Now 33% of Supreme Court Justices are women (vs. 8% of VC partnerships, for example).
But here’s a story that hit home with me. Dan talks about a landmark case in 2009 that involved whether it was legal to strip search a 13-year-old girl. In the oral arguments of the case many of the justices expressed skepticism that the girl’s rights had been violated. From the book …
“They had never been a thirteen-year-old girl,” Justice Ginsburg explained to the USA Today. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.”
Justice Ginsburg apparently set out to make sure they understood and in a result that surprised many court watchers, the judges, despite initial skepticism, ruled 8–1 in favor of the girl. Have a woman in the group of decision makers gave the group insights they may not have had on their own. Inclusion begets understanding, which in turn begets more comprehensive decisions.
Years ago Upfront Ventures rented out a movie theater of 350 people in Santa Monica to screen the movie, “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap,” an important movie by Robin Hauser and we invited senior members of many local tech firms to attend. The film gives several examples of where not having women included in product decisions has led to poor design by not truly understanding 50%+ of the ultimate consumers. She gives examples ranging from poor auto air bag design (female body types being different) to “Clippy,” the Microsoft assistant that many women found creepy.
It surprised me how many male executives emailed me back with a list of 3 or 4 women on their team who might be interested attending the film. My response was swift, “No! You don’t get it. I want YOU to come. Yes, bring women on your team but bring as many men or more. Women already KNOW there’s a problem. The importance of screening this film is to raise the awareness of bias within men!”
So one reason I’m thrilled that these VCs created Female Founder Office Hours is simply that having a well-run organization to serve female founders is in itself a way to call attention to the issue in the first place in the way that Robin’s movie “Code” raised awareness of men for the implicit and explicit biases many men (and women) have.
4. Safe Space
I know that people can hear a term like “safe space” and make assumptions about what that might mean but the truth is that first-time founders really do need a safe space to make mistakes, ask dumb questions, learn & interact with peers and get advice from mentors who have a vested interested in helping them succeed.
One of the huge benefits that I’ve noticed with the growth of accelerators over the past 10 years is that they have created safe spaces for early-stage founders to test ideas, learn from others, prepare naive plans and then refine it all before taking a more polished company to market to fund raise, talk with journalists, recruit staff or service customers.
What I love about Female Founder Office Hours is that this creates a safe space for young (or not so young) woman to learn from experienced VCs who can help them hone their plans in an environment where the intention is to help make founders better at their jobs vs. feeling judged. I think it will also help that many of the female VCs can also help prepare these female founders for some of the male biases, social cues, likely responses or how to read the body language or feedback from their male counterparts in a way that will help them ultimately be more successful.
5. Deal Flow
I often talk about how I think the best VCs “play offense,” by which I mean proactive go out and find a market segment or niche that they uniquely know, can uniquely serve or have some other natural advantage and go out and find deals you like. Many VCs simply wait for referrals to come to them via email or introductions they get at conferences or demo days. I think these deals are less exciting than the ones you proactive seek out.
With so many talented female founders our there I think it’s crazy smart of these female VCs to go out and corner the market on some of this deal flow.
I know that VC firms don’t hire partners very often so the change to adding more female partners will take time. But nothing causes one to stand up and doing something faster than being beaten in the market. So my secret hope for the continued success of female office hours is that by keeping some of the best deals in this group of VCs, other VC firms will realize that without enough women in their organization at the top they’re simply going to be boxed out of some very compelling deals.
Deal flow and winning will drive change faster than any other outcome.
6. Creating the Future We Want to See
I don’t know of any reasonable male VC in our industry who doesn’t accept that our industry needs to change to be more inclusive and I don’t know of any reasonable male VC who doesn’t think it’s going to happen. The challenge I see is that several men in the industry don’t know how to drive this change and perhaps aren’t working on timescales that will lead this change to happen as quickly as our industry wants or needs.
With 8% of partners at VC firms being female — we have a long way to go. But I’m encouraged to see the unity and camaraderie of these group of VC leaders go out and make a difference.
You’ll see from the website that Female Founder Office Hours have several dates set. You can apply using the links below:
March 13th in Upfront’s offices in Los Angeles (bonus — ocean views!)
And April 12th back in San Francisco.
Tell a friend. Sign up. Take action.
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