Women Are Disappearing From Venture Capital

The vast majority of U.S. venture capital investments go to companies led exclusively by men, according to a study released on Sept. 30. Only 15 percent of nearly 7,000 VC-backed companies analyzed had a woman executive. And a paltry 2.7 percent had a female chief executive, the research from Babson College shows.

More disheartening: Women are actually losing ground in venture capital leadership. The total proportion of women VC partners has dropped to 6 percent, from 10 percent in 1999. That shift has occurred even as other research shows women are becoming more active in the angel investment community.

The Babson study is the first comprehensive analysis in 15 years of how women fare in the venture capital world, says entrepreneurship professor Candida Brush. She and her co-authors analyzed 6,793 companies that received venture capital funding from 2011 to 2013.

Her hunch that younger VC firms would be more likely to have women partners turned out to be wrong. “We thought we’d find the 35-year-olds—who grew up with their mothers working and their sisters starting businesses—more socialized to accept women investors,” Brush says. “But it was the larger, older VC firms that had adopted formalized HR policies that started the recruiting that allowed them to have more diversity.”

Diversity in venture capital investors makes a difference for women-led companies looking for funding. The study shows that VCs with women partners are more than twice as likely to invest in companies with a woman on the executive team, and more than three times as likely to invest in companies with female CEOs.

Women have made progress since 1999, when the most recent major study on the topic was released, Brush says. Women getting VC funding then amounted to only 5 percent of the total, compared to 15 percent today.

The continued gender gap in investment is especially puzzling in light of multiple studies released in recent years that have shown that companies with women in senior positions are more likely to succeed than those that are all-male. Earlier this month, a report from Credit Suisse Research Institute showed, yet again, that companies with women in management report higher returns on equity and better net income growth than those lacking female leaders.

So why haven’t more women made inroads, both as investors and as entrepreneurs getting funding for their companies? Brush says she’s not sure. In nearly two decades of studying this topic, she’s seen myriad efforts focused on helping women entrepreneurs make their companies more attractive to venture capitalists. Now, she suggests, the focus now should be on the VCs: “It was all about what women need to do, 15 or 20 years ago. But I don’t think it’s about that anymore. The women are there, they’re qualified, and they perform well,” she says. “I’m very tired of this argument that it’s the women who need to fix themselves.”