Female founders claimed only 2% of US venture capital (VC) funding during 2021. Instead of showing signs of progress, that statistic represents the smallest allocation for women since 2016.
VC remains a male-dominated industry at every level. In fact, a recent Axios survey reveals that only 35% of US VC firms have female partners. Another report from James L. Knight Foundation reveals that women or minority partners make up less than 1% of wealth management industry leaders.
“I’m in that 1%, myself,” says VC investor Diane Yoo. “Gaining a seat at that table takes more than just hard work — it takes the perseverance and resilience to break barriers.”
Women stand out by standing their ground
Whenever Yoo hears “no” in the VC world, she takes it as a challenge, saying that women — but especially minority women — need tenacity to make it in this space.
“My resilience was forged in a family of entrepreneurs,” says Yoo. “I watched my father come to this country as an immigrant flipping through a pocket dictionary and become a successful entrepreneur whoachieved the American dream.”
Yoo is a venture capitalist today, but she started as an entrepreneur in tech on the other side of the table. As a woman and person of color in Houston, Texas, she pitched herself to investor after investor, but none of them resonated with her experiences or pictured someone like her when they thought of a founder.
Nevertheless, Yoo pushed forward and proved herself capable. She still face challenges as a woman of color in this space, but doesn’t take them personally.
“Whether we are asking for money as entrepreneurs or VC fund founders, there is unspoken bias,” Yoo explains. “Questions like, ‘Can she really do it? Can she really run the next billion-dollar fund or the next billion-dollar company?’ are common to hear. I’ve been through many accelerators, neck and neck with colleagues, and I see this disparity again and again.”
Nevertheless, Yoo’s perseverance has paid off in the long run. By standing her ground and making a seat for herself at the table, she has helped close the gap and paved the way for other women to follow.
Women stand out by building relationships
In an ocean of entrepreneurs, women founders set themselves apart through their ability to build relationships. According to Yoo, women are natural-born leaders. “We are able to exhibit empathy, humility, intellectual curiosity, and gratitude,” she says. “We are able to collaborate, learn, and keep our minds open when talking with others.”
Regardless, a seat at the table won’t simply be given. To take it, one will need to tap into their resources and grow their skill set and network. When walking into a room, know the background of every person there and the questions they will ask. Details like this will enable women in the VC space to stand out from others.
“Many people overlook empathy as a vital soft skill in this space,” Yoo adds. “Some VCs come off as unfeeling, but it will work to your advantage to build a positive relationship whenever possible. Long-term success is best served through lasting connections with investors and the capability to remain coachable.”
If a founder is uncoachable, VCs like Yoo know it could lead to future issues. She mentions that founders who refuse to listen to advice from their Board or venture partners are never worth the investment.
“One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor was to run from uncoachable founders,” says Yoo. “Regardless of gender or race, if VCs see you are malleable and open-minded, you will have the jump on stubborn entrepreneurs.”
Women stand out by creating more opportunities for other women and minorities
Yoo wants to bring a sense of belonging for women from diverse backgrounds to the VC space, and has come to appreciate funding as a gateway to success. She knows that she can best foster long-term change by unlocking funding opportunities for women of color like herself.
“As a mentor for some of the nation’s top 10 accelerators, I am dedicated to advocating for women and minority founders,” Yoo remarks. “My goal is to inspire more Asian women to enter the VC space. I hope to empower these women to reach the highest levels and impact the space’s trajectory.”
Today’s VC ecosystem is still predominantly white and male. Yoo switched sides of the table in order to invest in women who look like her.
Indeed, if we are going to level the playing field, we need diverse talent in boardrooms, at investor’s tables, and in executive roles.