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Silicon Valley just had a 'binders full of women' moment

The head of a major venture capital firm says he won't lower standards just to hire women.

Why doesn't venture firm Sequoia Capital have any female investors on its US team? Its standards are high, says Michael Moritz, the firm's chairman.
Dan Farber/CNET

Is it really 2015?

Or maybe it's 2012, when Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney explained during a debate how he found women for his leadership team as governor when only men had applied. He got "binders full of women" to help find the right ones.

Silicon Valley is having yet another Mitt Romney moment.

It happened when Michael Moritz, the chairman of renowned venture capital firm Sequoia Capital was asked why none of his American-based investors is a woman.

Moritz's explanation: his firm's standards are just too high. "We look very hard," Moritz said in an interview with Bloomberg, adding that his firm had just hired a young woman from Stanford.

But then he walked off the rhetorical cliff:

"What we're not prepared to do is to lower our standards," he said.

Moritz's gaffe caught fire on Twitter.

This is the latest example that Silicon Valley just hasn't learned. After lawsuits, public debate and even reform efforts, we're still where we started: The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is women's fault.

Facing backlash on Thursday, Moritz elaborated in a statement: "I know there are many remarkable women who would flourish in the venture business," he said. "We're working hard to find them and would be ecstatic if more joined Sequoia or other firms."

He might have to look a little harder. Women might make up 59 percent of the American labor force, but they've only got 30 percent of jobs in the tech industry. When looking at leadership positions, it gets even worse.

Among the top 100 tech companies measured by revenue, according to one June 2013 study, women held just 14.3 percent of board seats. Ten of those boards had no women on them at all.

For its part, Sequoia isn't only made up of men. The firm has three female investors in China and two in India. There are female partners at its US office, but they're not on the firm's all-powerful investment team.

But still, talk like this gives Silicon Valley's critics more ammunition.