Improving Gender Diversity in Corporate Venture

In Sonoma, near San Francisco, Fenwick & West and Silicon Valley Bank hosted about 20 women—and a few men—from the VC and corporate venturing communities for an afternoon of mixing and mingling. The topics of discussion included some of the pressing issues of the day, including the role of women in, and the push to diversify, the venture capital industry.

The group drew women with all levels of experience, from newbies to experienced managing directors, and from corporate venture arms, including Intel Capital, Google Ventures (now GV), Microsoft Ventures, IBM Ventures, NEA, Siemens, Verizon Ventures and others. The conversations generated by this diverse group were lively and interactive.

It is no secret that the numbers for women in venture are not pretty. Last year’s Crunchbase Women in Venture report shows that women make up about 7% of partners at the top 100 firms. The numbers for CVCs is better but still low—according to a 2014 report by CBI, 17% of top CVCs had women on the investing team.

The good news is that many firms and corporations have taken a hard look at these numbers and have accepted the challenge of increasing them. And, as evidenced by the women and men in the room at the recent Sonoma gathering, organizations are finding new and creative ways to do just that.

Intel Capital Diversity Fund
Intel Capital, which has always been at the forefront of corporate venture innovation, launched its $125 million Diversity Fund in 2015. The fund was initially focused on startups led by women and underrepresented minorities, and was then expanded to include entrepreneurs living with disabilities, U.S.-based entrepreneurs from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community and U.S. based military veterans.

Diversity Fund co-leader Trina Van Pelt was on hand in Sonoma to talk about how Intel Capital is expanding upon the fund’s goal to broaden the firm’s scope. To that end, all Intel Capital investors will actively look for and bring forward startups led by diverse teams and will encourage existing portfolio companies to support diversity.

Taking it a step further, what can CVCs do to promote diversity? “I think they should role-model,” says Van Pelt. “They should look to make sure their own teams have some representation of diverse people. They can role model behaviors when they’re meeting with others and looking at companies. That becomes part of a habit, even if you don’t have positions in diverse companies. You can also seek different sources for investments—not just your favorite co-investors. Try to step out once a quarter, or more often if you can, and go to something different—whether that’s an event that serves a different community of entrepreneurs, or a geography with a higher likely percentage of diverse candidates.”

Microsoft Ventures Looks Beyond Gender and Ethnicity
Microsoft Ventures is in the unique position of creating its team from the ground up. Last year, the technology giant’s venture arm brought on former Qualcomm Ventures head Nagraj Kashyap to build the group. Lisa Nelson, who was at the Sonoma lunch and joined Kashyap’s team as a Managing Director in July 2016, said that in continuing to build out the team, the focus isn’t only on gender and ethnic diversity. They are actively thinking about diversity from a broader lens to include members with diversity of thought, personal experiences and professional backgrounds. The thinking is that each of these team members will bring to the table something unique, and with such a varied and diverse set of skills and experiences, this rich team of professionals will be better positioned to help the business and the entrepreneurs they aim to serve.

Opening the door to a larger conversation, Nelson spoke of the need for women to support other women. And she wasn’t alone in her thinking—many in the room felt that one of the biggest obstacles to women succeeding is the lack of support and mentorship from other women. Indeed we cannot always control outside forces as to how women are treated in the workforce, but we can control how we as women in technology and venture treat and support each other through our challenges and successes. This is a directive that Nelson and many others in the room have taken to heart and put into practice on daily basis.

Global Corporate Venturing is responding to the call for greater diversity as well. Under the direction of editor-in-chief Jim Mawson, GCV is actively focusing on levelling the playing field and bringing parity to the events it produces through its panels, workshops and award winners.

Some of the broader group discussion points raised in Sonoma included addressing unconscious bias, including in the recruitment process, and the need for women to engage and support other women at all levels of the venture capital food chain. The Sonoma afternoon produced an energizing and candid discussion. We hope that by creating these opportunities to share, mentor and discuss diverse viewpoints, we can all move forward together with the common purpose of bringing more women and minorities to the venture capital table.

As partners in the technology and venture capital ecosystem, Fenwick & West and Silicon Valley Bank are committed to furthering diversity and inclusion, and are proud to work alongside these amazing women and men. Our belief is that the more diverse our organizations are, the better we are able to provide creative solutions for the entrepreneurs we serve.

Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Global Corporate Magazine(subscription required). Kiran Malhotra is director of VC relationships at Fenwick & West, and Tracy Isacke is managing director of corporate relationship management at Silicon Valley Bank.