Women entrepreneurs judged as women first and entrepreneurs later

Sid Talwar
8th March 2016

I spoke to women entrepreneurs I know. Did they feel they were being unfairly judged? The short answer: Yes! “How much time will you take off if you get pregnant?” asked one investor. “Are you planning on getting married?” asked another.

I did two small surveys over two days. First, I spoke to women entrepreneurs I know. Did they feel they were being unfairly judged? The short answer: Yes! "How much time will you take off if you get pregnant?" asked one investor. "Are you planning on getting married?" asked another. Honestly, I didn't see it coming.

At Lightbox, we pride ourselves on looking for the best entrepreneur, nothing more. As I'm sure many other funds do as well.

Skewed scenario in US

But my first survey revealed a problem. So I did some research. Unfortunately, Indian data is weak, but the US has plenty. A study by CB Insights revealed that only eight per cent of funded startups in America were founded by women.

Babson College's Diana Report found that 97 per cent of VC-backed companies had male CEOs. Businesses with all-male teams were four times more likely to receive VC funding compared with teams with at least one woman. Four times more likely!

This only changes when women become investors. The report also said that 58 per cent of venture capital firms with female partners invested in companies with women CEOs, versus 15 per cent of firms without women partners. But here's the catch — there aren't that many women in venture capital. The percentage of women partners in US VC firms was six in 2014. 

Crammed mindsets in India

Back to India. I first looked at Lightbox. Although, we've made investments in women entrepreneurs, we have no women in the partnership. Although 50 per cent of the Lightbox team are women and everyone contributes when we consider an investment, none of them are involved in the final decision. I, then, looked at nine other funds.

I went to websites, clicked on teams and started counting. I won’t publish the numbers, but, from my absurdly quick research, Indian venture makes US venture look amazingly diverse. And that’s really scary because America is in bad shape.

When asked why there was a lack of women in Sequoia, American venture capitalist Michael Moritz had said: “What we’re not prepared to do is lower our standards.”

The writer Jessica Nordell explained what’s wrong with such thinking. Moritz didn’t make a mistake, she said. He said exactly what he believed: “The idea that women are not as good is so deeply embedded in the mind of so many people in positions of power that it is not even recognized. It leads one to automatically and without awareness, connect “women” with “lower standards” and “woman as good as a man” with the exception.”

If women founder in India are not getting a fair chance, it’s the mindset. Too many men are thinking like Moritz without realizing it.

Which brings me to Survey No. 2. I called investors I know randomly. I told them I’m writing this article and asked why more women were not funded in India.

The common answer was that the get very few deals from women. That’s where the response of Sarah Nadav comes in “If there aren’t any women pitching you, it’s not a pipeline problem. The problem is literally you.”