In a world of increasing challenges and uncertainties, women investors are making prudent choices to help build a more resilient future. Yet there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to diversity in the venture capital industry.
At the BEYOND Expo 2022 tech conference, held online in the BEYOND Metaverse, Helen Wong, managing partner of AC Ventures; Shuo Chen, general partner of IOVC; and Gwendolyn Regina, investment director of BNB Chain, discussed the path for women in the investment field and offered their advice for young entrepreneurs.
Their comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Helen Wong, Managing Partner, AC Ventures
When it comes to investment, women do make different results from men. I think women are as capable as men, but in certain areas, women are maybe more in tune with.
In general, I wouldn’t say that there’s a gender bias, I’ve seen people who are very good at analyzing business models and they are female, and I’ve seen very good ones that are male as well. So we just shouldn’t have this gender bias toward investing.
On the whole, there’s no difference between women and men, but there are maybe certain characteristics which are different, for example on the board of a company, female board members I’ve seen tend to have more empathy, they are able to put aside the egos. Generally, many female board members don’t have as big an ego, and they can communicate more effectively.
When I started my career in venture capital in Silicon Valley, I still remember a very prominent male VC who told me that it’s harder to succeed as a female VC because most of the founders were male and they prefer male VCs. So I think it’s sometimes chicken and egg: do you have female GP funds that would invest more in women or would you have more female founders and then make it easier for females to become GPs as well?
When I came to China, it was quite a pleasant change because there were a lot more women in the workforce. Even though we are still the minority, on the whole there have been very successful female VCs in China. I do think that over time, what I’ve seen is that there’s been a lot more awareness of this issue and a lot more emphasis on trying to do the right thing, which is good both for women and as well as for the funds that you may have overlooked a certain demographic group, so I do believe that we’re moving in the right direction.
At AC Ventures, we found that we have 40% of our founders are female and 40% of the ones in high senior management positions are also female. This is without setting up any gender-focused fund and even prior to me joining the firm, so I think that a lot of progress has been made and it would be nice if one day we don’t even have to talk about this topic and we just have no gender bias at all.
Do not let any gender bias prevent you from achieving your dream. You might encounter it, but you know it’s not something that should hold you back, and do see if there are other people that can help you – you don’t have to feel that everything is just falling on your own shoulders, whether it’s child care or other aspects. Find people to help you along the way to mentor you; people have gone through the same challenges as you, so it would be very helpful.
Shuo Chen, General Partner, IOVC
It’s really hard to put stereotypes to what female founders versus male founders are like because I’ve seen folks that break the stereotype, whether female founders or male founders, but at the high level, I would say a couple of things. First, it acknowledges that female founders have received less funding, at least in the US. We’ve seen that actually out of all the venture capital that has been written out just in terms of the proportional split, more money has gone to male founders throughout the pandemic and less money than before in history written to female founders, which I think means that there is an opportunity to identify female founders running startups that are relatively undervalued just because female founders as a population are receiving less capital.
And then the second part is that we’ve seen the data in the US, over a decade-long longitudinal study, that companies that have a female co-founder on the team tend to be 67% more likely to stay alive ten years later than if it was an all-male team.
On a board level, on American boards of public companies, if they have one additional female board member, they are significantly less likely as a company to get into situations of fraud and get in trouble and be persecuted for all of that, so it is proven – whether it is among co-founders or board members – that additional diversity of thought is helpful.
As we think about supporting female founders, we should make sure that we have an equitable system set up from day one. If you keep on building a legacy system, technical debt just builds up further and further, but I have a lot of faith in younger generations not having that diversity debt from day one because I think at least the Gen Z founders who we work with now are much more thoughtful about including a diverse team and when you have a diverse group of co-founders you are more likely to hire a more diverse team of employees. Those kinds of effects ripple throughout the ecosystem.
We should better feature role models like Helen and Gwen here, because it’s really hard to be what you can’t see, and if you never even knew this was a possibility, how can you ever even aspire to be that?
I had no idea what venture capital was for most of my educational career, I think it was really after I had accidentally stumbled into entrepreneurship that I even knew that being an investor was a career path. So getting exposure as early as possible to all these career options and seeing other amazing women is such an important point.
In terms of advice for young entrepreneurs when they start careers, I would mention if relationship building or even the concept of networking feels like too many things, just break it down into a super manageable piece that you feel you can repeat on either a weekly or monthly basis. For example, if it means reaching out and catching up with someone once a month, if that feels manageable, then stick to that and make sure you do it once a month. If that feels like too much, make it once a quarter to reach out to someone and make sure you maintain that relationship, so if you just set one area of focus that you feel is important and helpful to you and stick to that habit and repeat it regularly that adds up to tremendous benefits in the long run, I couldn’t recommend that more.
Gwendolyn Regina, Investment Director, BNB Chain
(Moderator: Shuo brought up a point that females get fewer funds than males when it comes to doing startups. Do you think setting up female-focus funds to support investing in female advanced startups is a good way to promote women’s entrepreneurship?)
Female-focus funds, I mean to each our own right. I think there are many funds without biased agendas and focused on investing in underrepresented minorities, which are all good in different ways.
There’s some systemic bias against underrepresented minorities in general, so I think I probably would not do a female-focus fund, but for people focusing on women-focus funds. Because looking at a targeted segment does really make sure that you’re more open-minded, you’re almost forcing your team and people who are joining your fund to be more open-minded, it’s almost like a key thing if I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, you will think of a pink elephant, right? So not saying that investing in underrepresented minorities, females or others included but more like there is a certain positive to be said about female-focused funds.
(Moderator: In addition to female-focused funds, do you think there’s a better way to promote female entrepreneurship in this ecosystem?)
Many many different ways, and in general we need education on all the stats that show again mentioned. This is education that we need across the board to feed to males as well, so I do think that there is value to just be more inclusive from the get-go and educate the non-represented, the non-minorities essentially, so in this particular case talking about gender, we just need more people to be more aware, because we cannot assume that just because a female you know that there is a lack or know that they’re underrepresented, this is gender-free bias to some extent, so we do need all kinds of people to be more aware of the stuff that we’ve talked about.
And I would say that if you face bias, it reflects more on them than you, so don’t let that affect your own self-confidence. And I would say, in general, people who create bias often do so just because they lack awareness, in a sense ignorance, so doing some education on your part also helps the other person and the other person can be grateful.