To change the world, it helps to get capital into the hands of
people who have a different vision for it. A few years ago, I began
quietly investing in “nontraditional” venture capital funds—
“nontraditional,” of course, being industry parlance for a fund
that isn’t completely overindexed on companies led by white
men. With these investments I joined a growing community of
funders who believe that worthwhile investment ideas are more
evenly distributed among the population than the current flow
of venture capital dollars would suggest.
My journey to Sand Hill Road began, of all places, on a beach
in Tanzania. It was 1993, and Bill and I were in East Africa to celebrate our engagement. That trip was our first encounter with
the daily realities of extreme poverty and disease, and we were
deeply affected by what we saw. Before we went home, we took
a long walk and discussed giving most of the wealth that had
been created by Microsoft back to society. After a few years of
learning, listening, and consulting with experts, we decided to
start a foundation dedicated to ending inequality.
As my three kids got older, I took on a more public role at our
foundation and spent time in developing countries talking to
women and girls about their lives, their goals, and the barriers
standing in their way. I met so many strong, hardworking women
who wanted nothing more than the chance to lift their families
out of poverty and contribute to their communities—a chance
they would never have simply because they were born female.
On my way home from these trips, I thought a lot about
the fact that there is no country on earth where women have
achieved true equality. The truth is that we’re wasting a lot of
human potential here in the United States, too. Women are still
underrepresented in government, in media, and at the highest
levels of almost every industry. I decided that—without taking
time or resources away from the priorities of our foundation—I
needed to do more to advance equity in my own country. That
decision led me to start Pivotal Ventures.
Pivotal Ventures works to help dismantle barriers to equality for women and people of color in the United States. In many
ways, it feels like a natural continuation of the work I’ve been
doing at our foundation. But it also offers me new opportunities
to engage in the fight against inequality. For example, part of our
approach involves studying the gender gaps in industries that
have an outsize influence on society—industries like tech—and
looking for ways to invest for catalytic impact. That, of course,
is exactly what led us to our investments in venture capital.
The decisions venture capitalists make today determine who
will be the tech leaders of tomorrow and who will be left behind.
Yet the data suggests investors have a narrow idea of what kind
of innovations—and what kind of innovators—deserve funding.
In 2017, women founders received only 2% of VC dollars, and the
numbers are even worse for women of color. Since 2009, only
.0006% of venture funding has gone to black female founders.
As I see it, this investment gap has more to do with who’s doing the funding than who’s doing the founding. Only about 8%
of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms are women, and
more than half of those firms don’t have even a single female
partner. The result is a boys’ club that doesn’t give women and
people of color a fair shot.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that
investors tend to describe young male
WHY I’M BETTING ON DIVERSITY THE PHILANTHROPIST AND INVESTOR IS TACKLING SEXISM IN SILICON VALLEY. BY MELINDA GATES
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