Silicon Valley is increasingly focused on the gender diversity issues that affect technology businesses and venture capital firms. The data paints a disturbing picture. Women in leadership can barely be found. According to a recent Babson College study, only 15% of VC-backed companies have even a single woman serving in an executive role; fewer than 3% have a female CEO; and just 6% of venture capital firm partners are women.
Fixing the problem is imperative.
The formal barriers that women in the workplace once faced have long-since disappeared, but social norms – and long-established hiring habits – will take longer to shift. Among other factors, ingrained unconscious biases are common, influencing the workplace environment every day.
It’s simply not good enough to say that the Valley is a meritocracy, and that in the end talent wins out.
For both social justice and business reasons, we need to take active steps to turn the tide when it comes to gender diversity. Research shows that diverse opinions and perspectives lead to better decision-making, creating shareholder value. Companies with gender balance have a competitive advantage. We cannot hope to build strong, stable companies and products if the workforce doesn’t represent society as a whole. From every perspective, it’s simply the right thing to do.
We need to inspire more young women to pursue careers in engineering, business and the sciences – and we need to take proactive measure to support women as they advance up the management ranks.
Achieving balanced opportunity in the workplace is going to require tenacity, transparency, teamwork, humility, integrity and fairness. And those values have to start at the top – if leaders fail to live by and embrace those principles, the issue will never be solved.
I was attracted to KPCB by the firm’s commitment and track record on diversity – it has been a core value at our firm for nearly two decades. During my 10 years here, KPCB has made considerable progress on diversity, but there is more to be done. Silicon Valley leads the world in innovation and economic opportunity – we must lead on diversity as well. At KPCB we’re taking concrete measures to push for a more diverse workforce and we would urge others to do the same.
Here are four steps we’re taking to begin addressing the issue:
- Measuring Progress: Results matter. That is why we are starting by sharing gender statistics for both our firm and the KPCB Fellows Program at kpcb.com/diversity. Over time, we plan to also include ethnicity data. We will continue to advocate for – and regularly report on – diversity at our firm.
- Addressing Bias: Even with the best intentions, we can still possess unconscious bias. We have consulted with leading diversity experts and determined that training can help counter these biases. All KPCB employees and partners have been trained, and we are offering the same program to the companies we invest in.
- Filling the Pipeline: We must improve the pipeline of diverse talent coming to tech companies. Every year, thousands of the best and brightest college students apply to be KPCB Fellows, a program that pairs students to opportunities at tech start-ups. In 2015, women accounted for 32% of the Fellows, up from 24% in 2014 and 10% in 2013. For 2016, our goal is to reach 50% women and underrepresented minorities.
- Advancing and Retaining Talent: Two years ago, we started an initiative that brings together a community to champion rising women in the industry. Because retention is a key issue for most companies in Silicon Valley; we believe efforts like this can help provide mentorship and role models for up-and-coming women in tech.
Success starts with opportunity. Success is not an entitlement – it must be earned. We aspire to a world where everyone has opportunities – and is able to develop the skills to grow and thrive.
Beth Seidenberg M.D., who joined KPCB in 2005, invests in life sciences and digital health companies. She previously held executive roles at Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck.