Minority Report

The FEM Funnel

So you want to be a female tech venture capitalist? Simple! Only a few easy requirements separate you from Thiel-ian success.
sarah kunst The FEM Funnel

Ms. Kunst.

Minority report is a guest column by Sarah Kunst, who does business development and product at fashion app Kaleidoscope. She’s a black, non-engineer female in tech, but plans to IPO anyway.

The big question on everyone’s mind in the wake of Ellen Pao’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against venture capital powerhouse firm KPCB: “There are women not named Mary Meeker in VC?”

Betabeat crunched the numbers and came up with a Female Equality Metric, or FEM – the percentage of VC partners who are female. The number: 8.3 percent. Guess they’re not going to rename it “Sandra” Hill Road anytime soon.

For women who want to write big checks, this can seem like a pretty daunting statistic. But the refrain in the tech world is that there aren’t a lot of women, because not enough qualified women apply. What does it take to fill the hiring funnel with estrogen? We pulled together some job listings, stats and empirical evidence to provide a fast and dirty look into the world of who makes it to partner.

Kinda entry level? An old Union Square Ventures job post requests that, alongside being a strong communicator and interpersonal relationship guru, you also have:

  • Deep understanding of the ecosystem of web and mobile services
  • Familiarity with web technologies—you know the difference between the LAMP stack and a stack of lamps
  • Comfort modeling in Excel (writer’s note: this is not the same as modeling at Raise Cache)
  • Ideally, prior design or programming experience or work in an investment or internet-related position

If you’re that pre-MBA whiz in finance AND tech, you’re set.

Got a little less green and want to start with some real power in the title? The National Venture Capital Association has some thoughts on where you should be coming from: “Many venture capitalists come to the industry after successful careers as scientists, engineers, doctors or entrepreneurs…”

Hmm, we’ll assume that in tech, the backgrounds are on heavy on the science, engineering and entrepreneurship. Perfect, grab your press clippings from your days as a 30 Under 30 CEO, score a 1600 on the SAT, or be Matt Cohler—and remember to ask for carry structure based on which partner brought in the deal. Congrats, you are now a VC.

Is the path really that simple? If you’re a technical mind with a pretty solid understanding of math and the right connections, it can be. Most VCs seem to be former founders or investment bankers, but a quick peek at who has those qualifications reveals something a bit… penile… about the demographic most in that particular niche. How so? Well…

According to a recent Georgetown University study, 69 percent of computers and mathematics majors rock the Y (chromosome, that is). Sixty-four percent of finance majors are Jacks, not Jills. A whopping 84 percent of engineering majors will need a prostate exam.

But that’s just college. A major isn’t binding, right? The average person changes career paths five times, after all. Girls have time to get she to a hacker dojo and learn some black hat tricks or polish their pitch deck before the next VC fund closes.

However, like all funnels, there’s a narrowing over time. Those female tech and finance majors who stand the best chance of making it to partner status? By the time they’re hiking Sand Hill Road and stalking the booths at New York’s Coffee Shop, they represent a scant 11 percent of companies that will take venture money and can lay claim to a female CEO or founder, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

The Startup Genome Project’s data reflects the same general sentiment: Silicon Valley founders (likely candidates to go on to jobs in VC) are about 20 percent female and in New York that percentage hovers somewhere above 30 percent.

Are you part of the subset on subset on subset of women still in the funnel? Awesome. Now it’s time to get serious about where you want to venture. One solid way to get into a firm with the best deal flow and hottest reputation is to be an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). This gig varies from firm to firm, but expect to have landed a big win in previous positions and lots of exsisting relationships with tech thought leaders. Plan to follow it up with a six figure salary (and in some cases up to half a million dollars to experiment with) that pays the sky high rents in SoMa or SoHo while you spitball ideas and whiteboard your way into a brand new, ready-to-be-funded company. These jobs are pretty fluid and basically never advertised, so it’s hard to pin down exact data on how many of these paid-to-play positions exist.

Luckily, I’m one of three people who still use Google Reader and a search of RSS feeds including Techcrunch, SAI and Betabeat yielded 47 mentions of the term “EIR.” Exactly twice does the term refer to a woman (no, not a typo; both articles are about the same person, Padma Rao). So if you want to leverage your EIR gig into a solid VC role it’s vital that you are, in fact, Padma Rao. Given those (wildly generalized but fairly accurate) odds, it’s kind of mind-blowing that the FEM score hovers at even a lowly 8.3 percent.

What needs to change and how to change it? This isn’t a TED talk, so there’s no grand denouement. But all the usual suspects help. Encourage girls to code and take AP Calculus. Raise your hand and lean forward Sheryl Sandberg-style as a woman in the corporate world, and then reach back down the ladder to help the next generation. If you’re not on the tech side but still kicking ass in product management, user acquisition or business development, make sure you’re getting the equity and recognition that will keep you in the funnel. And if, after all that, you still find yourself squeezed out of the funnel solely because you’re a woman, that’s when you call a lawyer.