I feel extremely lucky to be working at a job that combines my passion for technology, entrepreneurship, and meeting interesting people who dare to challenge the status quo. Don’t get me wrong, after living in the outwardly glitzy New York for four years where Gucci loafers and bottle service were practically synonymous with success, Silicon Valley is a breath of fresh air.
However, there is one thing that unsettles me as much here as it did in the New York finance world, and that is the lack of women.
There are many theories why we are under-represented in the tech industry, but one that resonates most with me is women’s skewed perception of technology and venture capital.
During my time at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (“the GSB”), one of my favorite professors, Joel Peterson introduced me to the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, which changed my thinking style in a very fundamental way. In the book, Dweck draws a distinction between two personality types:
- The “fixed” aka “Enron” mindset: People who believe they are born with a set of traits that cannot be changed and therefore have a tremendously difficult time bouncing back emotionally from failures.
- The “growth” mindset: People who think of failures as learning opportunities and therefore consistently seek out challenging situations to improve their skills. (This mindset applies to anything from business to dating, but more on that later…)
People in the fixed mindset are defined by stereotypes and expectations. For instance, a recent study shows standardized test-takers who are forced to identify themselves as female or African American end up with statistically significant lower scores as compared to a control group who does not have to disclose such information. Of course, an individual’s mindset often lies on a spectrum between fixed and growth and can always change over a lifetime, but it is hard to deny that stereotypes still play a powerful role in people’s career aspirations.
And herein lies the problem in my opinion: the Silicon Valley tech stereotype is fixed, and not one that plays favorably to women.
When most people think of the average tech entrepreneur, the pale guy who codes while playing World of Warcraft in his gadget-filled basement pops up. This image goes against society’s definition of femininity, and as a result, little girls who aspire to become extroverted women who have interests ranging from fashion to business do not consider computer science or engineering as a viable career path.
I have been told repeatedly by my colleagues in tech that I do not fit into the Silicon Valley mold….that I seem too “New York” or too feminine to be a VC. Truth is…I love fashion, I love art (I was this close to enrolling in Parson’s School of Design), and I read InStyle just as regularly as I read VentureBeat. But I am also a former gaming addict — I programmed my own RPG game in middle school, and I was an engineering major who spent half of my weekends in college writing code in Matlab.
These things are not mutually exclusive, and being an engineer, a computer programmer or a venture capitalist does not mean a woman has to give up what makes her feminine. But I recognize that I was very lucky. My mother is an engineer and fashion designer in her spare time, and I never believed that a woman had to be one or the other.
So how do we solve this problem? By having more female tech entrepreneurs and VCs in the public eye who are unafraid to break down stereotypes (for instance, stylish, highly competent leaders like Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer). Ultimately, more young women need to see that programmers and VCs don’t always have to be a “he”. In 2011, only 17 percent of computer science grads were women, and only 5 women appeared in the Midas List, Forbes’ annual list of the top 100 venture capitalists.
When I look at Blumberg Capital’s portfolio companies, I feel very lucky to be able to look up to some amazing female entrepreneurs, including Philippa Pauen at Wummelkiste, and Joanna Riley at One Page Company. But, we need more women in technology who are willing to break the mold. Silicon Valley has got to produce a female Mark Zuckerberg or Vinod Khosla, so girls will aspire to be in tech from a very young age.
Jenn Wei is a venture capitalist at Blumberg Capital, an early stage venture capital firm based in San Francisco. Prior to Blumberg Capital, Jenn worked in technology investment banking and consumer/fashion private equity in New York. Jenn received her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and B.S. in Engineering from Duke University. Follow her on Twitter: @jennjwei