Venture Capital

In light of Pao: Where are women at top VC funds?

Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court, March 24, 2015.
Robert Galbraith | Reuters

As the Ellen Pao trial wraps up, I've been hearing a low rumble from senior women across Silicon Valley about the other top venture capital firms, which have no women at the highest level. While Kleiner Perkins was sued for gender discrimination, it actually has a woman, Mary Meeker, at its very highest level, which is more than many of the other top VCs can say.

A look through CrunchBase and at the websites of Andreessen Horowitz; Sequoia; Accel; Khosla Ventures; General Catalyst Partners; SV Angel, and Greylock is pretty shocking. There's not a single woman at the very top level.

At Andreessen Horowitz, the six general partners are men. Sequoia's venture team is a dozen men. At General Catalyst Partners, all six managing directors are male. Khosla consists of eight male venture partners.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of women at the top VC firms; there are female partners, and women are far better represented in the roles of CFOs, COOs and in marketing, human resources and as associates. But bottom line: at the top level, women are vastly underrepresented.

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Women represent 5.6 percent of investment decision makers at all U.S. VC firms that have raised at least $100 million since 2009, according to Fortune Magazine and PitchBook. To put that in context, the executive ranks at Google are 21 percent female, and at Facebook they are 23 percent female.

And on average, women comprise 11 percent of executives at Silicon Valley's top 150 companies, which is less than the average at the S&P 500, where they are 16 percent of executives.

Women are better represented at the smallest VC firms: 14 percent of investment professionals at firms with under $50 million in assets under management, according to PitchBook. In contrast they're 6 percent of investment professionals at firms with $1 billion-plus.

And there's reason to be optimistic. Mark Andreessen, arguably the highest-profile investor in Silicon Valley, has just founded a boot camp to give women the background they need to sit on boards. That's a key move to help train the next generation of VC leaders.

Many tell me the Pao trial drew much-needed attention to the issue. And many of the biggest firms are investing to develop their younger female executives.

Cracking the gender code
Cracking the gender code

Plus, we're seeing the rise of female-driven funds. Last year two women from leading VC firms—Theresia Gouw, a partner at Accell, and Jennifer Fonstad, a partner and managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson—left to found their own boutique fund, Aspect Ventures.

It has reportedly raised $150 million, which is large for a first fund. And it's already had a big success: Just this week one of its investments, LearnVest, which has a female CEO, sold to Northwestern Mutual.

Fonstad says she and Gouw were primarily looking to return to their roots in early- and seed-stage investing, not unlike many of their male peers who, after they reach a certain level, leave to start their own funds. But they're also looking to be role models.

"We thought we would have the opportunity to really make an impact on our industry by demonstrating the success of female venture investors, and potentially drive an appreciation for having that diverse voice around the table through our success."

Read More Ellen Pao gender-bias lawsuit is a setback for women

And she says the Pao case can have a positive impact: "It's raised a dialog and raised the importance of how important culture is at any organization or company. Having that diversity in the company and the organization really does drive better decision-making," says Fonstad.

Fonstad also co-founded a group of female-only angel investors, called Broadway Angels, with Sonja Hoel Perkins, who says she's also looking to change the conversation. "I feel that if there's more women, there's going to be more women," Perkins says. "With the rise of female venture funds, funds like Broadway Angels, more women will see it's a good job and they'll apply for jobs."

Both Perkins and Fonstad say they're confident that in the wake of the Pao case we'll see the biggest firms hire more women, as well as more female-only firms. "We're really the first generation of a large group of women that's gone on to form their own firms," says Fonstat.

One factor that she says will help diversity: Women use mobile devices 1.2 to 1.3 times more than men, which is bringing more women to develop mobile apps. "It will have a virtuous cycle to bring more women into the industry."