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March 16, 2005

The ROI of Feminine Intuition

Sarah Lacy

SiliconBeat has an interesting story today on Joanna Rees-Gallanter of VSP Capital today. Yesterday, the small firm announced the close of its third venture capital fund at $185 million. If you just groaned and said, "Does the valley really need another venture fund?" you probably weren't alone. But does the valley's venture business need another prominent female investor? Absolutely.

I've written about this a few times over the last few years and it's always a touchy subject because the few women that have clawed their way to the top of the tech or venture capital worlds want to be treated like everyone else. They don't want to answer any questions that start, "As a woman..."

I can understand why. I worked at a publication earlier in my career that was having a hard time getting female readers. In one meeting, the publisher looked at me and said, "What business stories do you like to read?" Um...good ones, like anyone else. And not just about Revlon and Prada either.

That said, it is a reality of the venture business that while many top firms have a female general partner or venture partner, there are few women leading brand name firms. There's Kathryn Gould of Foundation Capital, Nancy Schoendorf of Mohr, Davidow, and Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad—respected investors all, but like it or not they are rarities. A Kauffman Foundation study released last year showed that from 1995 to 2000, while the venture business was expanding, twice as many women were leaving as men.

Interestingly, in lifesciences, women have made significantly better inroads. I often ask people in the business why this is. There are a lot of theories. Some say women are naturally drawn to the mission of lifesciences, to save lives. Some say you get into venture capital by your business experience and there are simply more women in leadership roles in the healthcare industry than in tech.

As much as women want to say their gender doesn't make a difference in business, I've heard otherwise from men who work at women-lead firms. They'd never say it on the record, but several have reported a less competitive, more collaborative environment, and more productive partner meetings. It may sound sexist, but women who are the boss in male-dominated industries like venture capital have often worked harder than their male counterparts to get there. As a result, they’re a pretty focused, ambitious bunch. It may be a stereotype, but it's a lot better than one that involves crying or being bad at math.

03:42 PM

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