I can be totally horrified YET completely unsurprised when I see coverage of the dangerously clubby world of venture capital. Here, covered by Xconomy, is another instance: insane treatment of a female MIT student who wrote honestly about her 2014 summer intern experience at a Boston VC fund. She did a balanced blog post about it, got castigated, and had to go the Wall Street Journal to tell the rest of the story.
In one meeting that stretched over multiple hours, she wrote, an unnamed male partner essentially shouted her down for going public with her complaints:
“We were chatting about the initiatives that the firm was a part of that were promoting diversity and inclusion, when another partner stormed in and began reprimanding me, telling me that I needed to apologize to the women at the firm and saying that I had no right to disclose the ongoings of the business. He said the post was misguided and anger-filled, and he was disturbed that he had received emails from LPs and portfolio founders asking how I could have done what I did. After multiple calm responses to his shouting, I couldn’t take it anymore. He had been standing and pointing furiously at me the entire time, while everyone else was seated. I stood up, tears falling from my eyes and my breath becoming uncontrollable, and said I wasn’t going to take this treatment.”
The firm would have been so much better off listening to her in the first place, instead of attacking her. She was naive to think that they would not react badly to her blog post, but I don’t want to fault the main victim here.
This probably seems like a remote and irrelevant issue to the 99.9% of us who are not investors or entrepreneurs. But this problem is insidious and it is actually in our faces every single day because these behind-the-curtain VC investors largely determine who gets to start and build high growth companies. VC-backed companies are incredibly important to our economy: accounting for 9% of new job growth and 21% of GDP (according to Peter Thiel). In addition, those media-darling businesses form our core view of business, founders, leaders.
At the end of the day, most of us work for businesses and large organizations. But they all start with a single person and an idea. And those businesses that grow from a tiny start determine what the nature of our work and biggest activity of our day to day existence is like. So think of it like a VC investor as the hidden puppet master of your professional life. Their decisions and biases really do matter to most of us.
What if those VC-funded businesses could be started by people who look like you and me, and not a very narrow club? Your daily existence and career could be radically improved. If you are not from an elite school, or white, or heterosexual, or male, or part of the otherwise narrow VC worldview, you could still have a fair shot–determined by your own capabilities, not your genetics. You could move from an existence as “EEOC hallway decor” to being a real contender without having to slay a mountain.
All because someone who looks more like you could get funding.
That is why this matters.