Brad Feld, Foundry Group: Solving Venture Bias

Transcript follows & video below.  This is Part II of the interview.  You can view Part I and Part III here.

You have been very vocal on your blog Feld Thoughts about the lack of women in tech & have been Chairman for National Center for Women & Information Technology as you mentioned.  Could you summarize what needs to happen to encourage more women to become involved with technology?

I think there is a couple of different, very specific things that can be done. The first which is the one I was riffing on before, is this notion of role models.  I think there are numerous role models for male entrepreneurs.  I think there are less female role models.  The successful female entrepreneurs of any age, the more visibility they have, the more they’re celebrated for their success the better!  The second is that it is important for us to drive out a lot of the preconceived notions at different points in time.  So for example, if you look younger in age pipeline sort of in junior high or high school, historically there’s been a lot of parental bias against girls going into computer science. There’s a variety of factors but having people understand that the thing that’s driving that doesn’t make any sense or importance. For example, until recently a lot of parents had the perception that computer science was a very isolated activity. You sit in front of your computer & program all day & have no communication & collaboration.  So there’s this encouragement to young girls to do things that are more collaborative.  That doesn’t make any sense.  That’s not really how software is built & how products are built.  Sure there’s plenty of time spent concentrating in front of a computer but that’s no different than many other professional activities.  And in fact the process of developing software today is in many cases & in certainly the best organizations, very collaborative & requires very good communication skills & it can have very robust interaction. So the anecdote that computers are geeky is silly.  If you look at it today kids of all ages, 5 or 6 on, 7 or 8 on, have computers around them all the time & there’s no real functional difference in use.  So then the idea that girls can’t be as effective in developing software than boys.  But getting rid of those biases early is important. There’s some specific things that will take some time so for example the AP computer science classes really are not a very effective computer science class.  It basically teaches you how to program in java – not a particularly stimulating activity.  If you look at the curriculum, it’s a math centric, sort of a theory centric curriculum versus one that really teaches you how to develop software versus learn a programming language. There are multiple aspects of that.  So making that work better & more effective, I think is important.

Then you obviously have all this stuff that works up into the workforce both in large companies & small companies. Really breaking down the biases as well as the preconceived notion that people are better, males are better at one thing, women are better at something else.  I’ll give you a counter example, there’s a bias that women are better teachers in K312 than men.  That’s not a constructive bias either, there may be more women that are K312 teachers than men but the whole idea that they’re better versus there being a homogeneous mix is actually not helpful.  So you mess up organizational culture by having these biases & the best thing people can do over time is just drive them out of organizations.

Brad Feld

What do you see as the obstacles for inclusion of more women entrepreneurs in achieving funding?

I think the obstacles are essentially around the range of stuff we are talking about.  It’s a self fulfilling prophecy both positive & negative, the more women entrepreneurs there are, the more successful women entrepreneurs there will be, the easier it will be for that bias to be driven out of the system or the more that bias will get driven out of the system. And subsequently the more women entrepreneurs will be funded. It’s not just a be funded phenomena, its engage in the process?  You asked me at the beginning what percentage of companies are women & its a small percentage.  And its not because we’re looking for male oriented businesses or we are explicitly looking for female entrepreneurs oriented businesses.  In fact we are looking for businesses that appeal to us, & if you remember Jason’s talk on Foundry Group, we’re looking for specific companies who fit with our themes.  We don’t care whether an entrepreneur is male, female, young, old & frankly if they were from Mars or from Pluto & they were working on something interesting to us, that would be fine.  So we’re not focused on the gender, age, ethnicity of the person but interestingly that population is such that it is very skewed male. I think what women do to help each other is important.  I think that’s true of all aspects of society, if there’s a bias in the system the people that are in the minority should work together to overcome the bias. And more importantly the people that are in the majority should be very tuned into the bias & should work hard to try to eliminate the bias, not necessarily by modifying their specific decisions but by eliminating the bias from their decisions.

Brad Feld

What tips would you offer women entrepreneurs who are considering sourcing venture capital?

I’d tell them not to be bashful in any way, shape or form. The great female entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with come in all shapes & sizes, all different personality types, all different skill bases. The common trait that they all have is that none of them are afraid of being an entrepreneur.  None of them are bashful about it.  In the same way that the successful male entrepreneurs are not afraid of being entrepreneurs & are not bashful.  The women that I encounter that are hesitant, that are uncomfortable with being an entrepreneur, that aren’t sure whether they want to be an entrepreneur, its the same character trait as when a guy comes up to me & says ‘I’m thinking of being an entrepreneur but I need to make this amount of money & I need to have this kind of stability.’  My response is ‘don’t, you’re not an entrepreneur!  It’s ok there’s nothing wrong with it just don’t be something that doesn’t map to you.’  So I don’t think its a unique problem again in the context for women.  I think the successful ones are all confident, aggressive, thoughtful, energetic but again on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, on the product to sales spectrum, on any of those dynamics, on the education spectrum, they’re all over the place within that sample. I just encourage women to be themselves & to be articulate about what they care about, be passionate about it & go for it!

Brad Feld

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