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From Microaggressions To Mansplaining: Busting Biases In Venture Capital
From Microaggressions To Mansplaining: Busting Biases In Venture Capital

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Although the phenomenon has made its way into headlines and Twitter trends in recent weeks after the controversial WSJ op-ed, the deep-rooted history of “mandozing” over women’s achievements and expertise reflects the endemic consequences of unconscious bias against women in business, science and academia. From presidential campaigns to venture fundraising, medical grand rounds to academic science, women—and especially, intersectional womxn—have long had to navigate the murky and tempestuous waters of gender bias. Left unchecked, these biases threaten to hold back a generation of breakthrough entrepreneurs who have the potential to transform science and our economy.

Convene any group of women or minorities and you’ll witness heads nodding as they exchange stories from their own experiences in the workplace. Many have faced the textbook examples of gender bias—e.g., being passed over for promotion, characterized as “aggressive” or “not playing nice” in performance reviews, navigating questions over timing of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And a majority will attest to the slow and painful effects of microaggressions—e.g., being talked over in group meetings, listening to a male colleague repeat an idea as if it were his own, or having her own thesis dissertation topic “mansplained” to her.

As is the case with many societal issues, the COVID pandemic seems to have only exacerbated the inequities, threatening to reverse decades of progress on gender reform, particularly in the workplace. The tl;dr: women are dropping out of the workforce at unprecedented rates, and women of color are especially at risk. Women continue to receive less venture capital funding than their male founder peers, and those who have received funding and fame may face the type of takedown The Information’s Jessica Lessin has characterized as  “The Pink Elephant in the Tech Press.”

When it comes to raising capital, the data is clear on two seemingly orthogonal fronts: 1) women and intersectional founders are receiving less capital than their peers as a result of implicit biases, and yet 2) there’s an abundance of analysis that clearly shows that investing in women is good not only for the macro economy, but also for scientific innovation and for individual investors. There are dozens of examples, but Katalin Karikó’s story is a particularly timely one. Despite her credentials as a leading biochemist, Dr. Kariko failed to raise funding for her mRNA vaccine breakthroughs in 1995, hitting “dead ends,” receiving rejection letters from grant applications and failing to fundraise from VCs. Fast forward to 2021—without her research, there would have been no hope for the COVID-19 vaccines currently being distributed around the world.

Indeed, women founders have been proven to outperform, with higher revenues, better capital efficiency and myriad other strong indicators of growth and ROI. In fact, as I have written about previously, I believe women and underrepresented minority entrepreneurs will be key to the post-Covid economic recovery. But unfortunately, as is too often the case for Black (and Latinx) women in the workplace, Black women entrepreneurs in particular face compounding bias.

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