Silicon Valley VCs still clueless when it comes to women

Commentary: Mike Moritz, one of the most influential venture capitalists in tech, suggests that it's women's fault they can't get ahead. He says there's a pipeline problem. I've got an easy fix.

Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Connie Guglielmo
4 min read

How can smart people be so clueless?

Case in point: Mike Moritz, one of Silicon Valley's most clout-worthy VCs. When he speaks, people listen. That was too bad for him last week when, in a Bloomberg TV interview, he inserted his colorfully clad foot in his mouth up past his knee when he blamed women for not breaking into male-dominated tech land.

According to Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital, there's a pipeline issue that makes it hard for Sequoia to find women to join its masters-of-the-universe club. (And believe me, top-level VCs really are the masters of the Silicon Valley universe.) As much as Moritz would love to recruit more women, Sequoia isn't willing to "lower its standards" just to add diversity.

Yes, he really meant it. You want to know the best part? Moritz was a history major -- and that makes his comments laughable. It's OK that he got into tech venture capital without a degree in science, tech, engineering or math (STEM). But for women? Not so much.

The world reacted. Vanity Fair penned an essay with the opening line "It's you. Not him." Tech insider site Recode called out other high-profile VCs "who've offered just as cockamamie explanations and defenses of how and why their field is so male-dominated." In CNET's special report in May on women in tech, women VCs told us they're so fed up with the status quo they're setting up their own firms and angel funds.


Solving for XX: The tech industry confronts outdated ideas about "women in tech." Click on the image for more stories on the topic.


Moritz quickly amended his comments to Bloomberg's Emily Chang, explaining that there are actually women who would "flourish in the venture business. We're working hard to find them."

Good on you, Moritz! I'm sure, with a little hard work and a trusty binder full of names, you'll be able to find those rare females your firm would treat as, you know, equals.

After a few days mulling over Moritz's conundrum, and checking out the backgrounds of the male investing partners listed as the top "people" at Sequoia's US offices, I've come up with a solution:

Consider women from the other pipelines you're already hiring from.

Let's go through this. Moritz said, "the issue begins in our high schools, and where women particularly in America and also in Europe, tend to elect not to study the sciences when they're 11 or 12. So suddenly the hiring pool is much smaller."

He has a point. Fewer women are getting STEM degrees, although why that's true is open to debate. Maybe girls don't like computers. Or maybe they're tired of being dismissed or intimidated by the boys in class and the men at work. Lots of studies suggest the real problem is that second issue.

I get why venture capitalists want partners with STEM degrees: That can make it easier to evaluate an entrepreneur's proposed product or technology at the early investment stages. But here's the thing: just some of the partners at Sequoia have STEM degrees. Turns out Sequoia also sees the value in tapping into the pipeline of economics and finance undergrads. Most also have MBAs, including Moritz.

So are fewer women getting STEM degrees? Yep. But there's no shortage of women with economics and finance degrees and MBAs, who are also fabulously bright, driven, interested in technology and hungry to succeed, which is the Sequoia "standard."

Last week, Moritz did acknowledge that "there are many remarkable women who would flourish in the venture business."

Did I mention that Moritz majored in history? Even he admits that Sequoia founder Don Valentine "took a risk" hiring him in 1986. "I'm a history major, knew nothing about technology, nothing about Silicon Valley," Moritz said last week.

Could Moritz's career reveal the real key to becoming a successful VC? If so, don't bother doing a stint at a startup or bulking up your resume by working for Apple, Facebook or Google. Consider working as a journalist instead. That's what Moritz did. His early claim to fame in Silicon Valley was as a writer for Time magazine.

That gave me a glimmer of hope for my own VC aspirations. (I think I'd be a great master of the tech universe.) I have an MA in journalism from Stanford and have spent my career as a tech journalist. But I don't have that history degree and that counts me out. Little did I know I made a multibillion-dollar mistake when I decided to major in political science as an undergrad.

It's too late for me. But for all you other bright, driven women out there who are interested in tech, hungry to succeed and looking for a ticket to ride on the Silicon Valley money train, get yourself a history degree, earn an MBA and see if you can get a few stories published.

Maybe then, Moritz will take a risk on you without feeling like he's lowering his standards. After all,

aren't masters of the universe supposed to have a clue? It would be nice to think so.

With reporting by Rochelle Garner and Rebecca Fleenor.