A few months before the Harvey Weinstein story broke last fall, Silicon Valley had its own reckoning, when numerous VCs were accused of sexual harassment. Cowboy Ventures cofounder Aileen Lee, one of the most prominent female VCs in the Valley, approached women in her network and proposed that they come together to do something. The result was All Raise, a collective of more than 30 VCs that seeks to both mentor and increase the number of women founders and women in venture capital.
“We’re really trying to build scaffolding around the entire ecosystem,” Lee says, “to create incentive and pressure for the industry to change faster.” A key change All Raise hopes to facilitate is upping the number of female partners at venture firms—which would empower far more women to write checks and lead deals. And while some firms have made an effort to hire more women over the years, they aren’t necessarily in the higher ranks.
As of March, All Raise found that there are 170 female partners at funds worth upwards of $25 million—that amounts to 9% of VCs at firms of that fund size—and 74% of U.S. firms do not have even one female partner. “If you look at a lot of VC sites, there are pictures of women, but the titles are very misleading,” says Eva Ho, a founding member of All Raise. “So when we came up with the number 170, we really defined those people as check-writing individuals.” Over the next 10 years, All Raise intends to double the number of women in partner roles. Here are some of the ways it plans to do that, and how other VCs can do the same.
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Connect VC firms with partner candidates
In recent years, a number of women have opted to start their own funds, forging their own path into the role of partner and decision maker. But that doesn’t change the fact that larger legacy firms—which usually manage far more money—need to diversify. “If we want to impact our industry, we can’t just throw a bunch of women and minorities into small funds,” Lee says. She points to firms like SoftBank Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners that manage billions of dollars but have few female general partners.
All Raise is tackling this on both ends, both by courting VC firms and alerting women to job openings through a monthly newsletter. (They’re also using founders to help keep venture capital accountable by pushing them to make public commitments to diversity through the Founders for Change initiative.) This is especially important in an industry like venture capital, where people often hire from within their network. “We’re working both publicly and privately with firms to try and hold those roles open for women and historically underrepresented minorities,” Lee says. “For firms that care, we’re helping them.”
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Bring more women into investing
Of course, as both Ho and Lee point out, the VC industry also needs small, women-run funds, which are also far more likely to back female founders and help change the demographics of the industry as a whole. One such fund, XFactor Ventures, built an investment team of venture-backed female founders and gave them the opportunity to invest in other women.
“[XFactor] wanted to take CEOs that were right in the Series A going to series B range, where maybe they hadn’t cashed out of their companies yet and didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around, and give them a checkbook to start investing,” XFactor investment partner Anna Palmer says. A smaller fund can also introduce other investors with more capital to companies they wouldn’t otherwise entertain—or would pass on. Palmer says male investors in XFactor’s orbit—allies, she calls them—have already shown an interest in the companies in which the fund has invested.
That’s why All Raise is also educating limited partners on why it’s important to back women-led funds. “They really touch the community at the grassroots level,” Ho says of smaller funds like her own, Los Angeles-based Fika Ventures. “They tend to see a lot more entrepreneurs and mentor a lot more entrepreneurs [compared to] somebody at a large growth fund.”
Show women a path to partner
The crux of All Raise’s mission is mentorship and community, be it through office hours for female founders or women in VC gatherings. That includes being a resource for the next generation—women at the associate level, or women who want to enter venture capital. “A lot of them don’t even know what being a general partner means,” Ho says. “They can’t even envision that, and in the past there have been so few iconic women general partners.”
All Raise also grants access to the women who have made it, so to speak—the likes of Lee and Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green—who may have felt out of reach to younger female VCs. “They actually show up at all these events,” Ho says. “They’re super active and involved.”
Ho admits that when she first got involved with the group, she was a bit skeptical. But any reservations she had have since disappeared. “We quickly recognized as a group that we have to help each other succeed,” Ho says. “It’s a very strong sisterhood.”
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