How Investors Are Trying To Change The Culture Of Silicon Valley

Over the last year, the tech press has been filled with stories of high-flying startups struggling with issues of gender discrimination and harassment, sometimes with those issues coming from the founders themselves. At TechCrunch Disrupt SF today, investors from some of the Valley’s top firms discussed how startups are attempting to create a more inclusive environment, especially for women in tech.

Changing the culture of Silicon Valley isn’t going to be easy. Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee noted that many of these issues crop up because most early-stage startups don’t have a head of HR, and are sometimes being founded by people who haven’t worked in a professional situation before.

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In today’s environment, the way startups attract a diverse talent pool will be a key differentiator going forward. Lee went on to say that in many cases, people don’t realize that things like harassment and the gender pay gap are illegal. But even beyond that, companies could work harder to make the environment more friendly for their employees.

“There’s probably an opportunity for some sort of a training program,” Lee said, noting that the industry as a whole doesn’t really have the tools that it needs to make more systemic change.

Index Ventures’ Danny Rimer said his firm does a regular audit of how many companies it has invested in that have women as leaders or founders. That number is currently about 15 percent, which might sound low, but is “surprisingly high for the peer group,” Rimer said. As part of its efforts, Index tries to find partnerships between portfolio companies and help connect its founders to support one another.

But more could be done, and that might start with having more female investors to support those entrepreneurs. Greylock’s James Slavet noted that the portion of women who are founders and CEOs and the portion of women who are VCs are “inextricably linked.”

Meanwhile, Lee thinks it’s only a matter of time before one investment firm moves to dramatically change its own ratio. “The power move would be a high-profile VC firm announce not just one, but two female GPs,” she said.