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5 Things We Need To Do To Close The VC Gender Gap: “Schools need to talk a LOT more about entrepreneurship as a job option” With Emily Howe of Portola Advisors

Schools need to talk a LOT more about entrepreneurship as a job option and tell young kids of all genders not only about “how a bill becomes a law” (something they may never encounter) but also “how you can get funding for your awesome idea” (something plausible). As part of my series about “the five […]


Schools need to talk a LOT more about entrepreneurship as a job option and tell young kids of all genders not only about “how a bill becomes a law” (something they may never encounter) but also “how you can get funding for your awesome idea” (something plausible).

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Howe. Emily Howe is a management consultant — and organizational change expert — with Portola Advisors. With her Masters’ degree in Gender/Cultural Studies, Emily helps organizations advance women, foster inclusion, and reduce workplace gender bias. Emily is a frequent speaker on women/work/inclusion topics. Emily leads the Commonwealth Club’s Executive Womxn’s forum, she founded the American Association of Corporate Gender Strategy, and she advises executive women in male-majority roles.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Let’s jump right in. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what you or your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?

I help VC firms reduce their “bro cultures” by reviewing their HR and other company data — quantitative and qualitative — to help leadership understand the experience for their female colleagues along the entire employee process — from recruiting to getting promoted or hired into roles what affect the big decisions.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap? Can you please explain?

  1. Schools need to talk a LOT more about entrepreneurship as a job option and tell young kids of all genders not only about “how a bill becomes a law” (something they may never encounter) but also “how you can get funding for your awesome idea” (something plausible).
  2. Women must be involved in the biggest decisions — female-led companies that have made a lot of money recently were often passed over by all-male (often all-white) VC decision making bodies.
  3. VC firms need to do whatever it takes to increase the number of female-led ventures who pitch.
  4. Women need to ignore the discouraging numbers (and people) and take their great ideas, understand the VC process, and go for it.
  5. VC firms need to build to pipeline consciously and aggressively, matching those who have been funded with rising star women and minorities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would change the American education system to include business / entrepreneurial classes so that each student has planned and started some kind of business — however small — by the time they graduate middle school — and another by the end of high school.

Who’s a female entrepreneur/ VC you respect and why?

I really love Arlan Hamilton, founder of venture firm, Backstage Capital a $36 million fund for black female founders.

I’d like to be provocative. Mentorship means an experienced person, in a specific field, supports, and guides another one towards success or a specific goal. In this sense, a successful person should be able to mentor another one independently of their gender. What do you think is the purpose and real impact of VC funds who focalize their work in women and minorities? Don’t you think that this tends to confine specific groups making it even more difficult for them to have a seat at the table?

No way are women’s/minority VC funds bad for women and minorities. Given the [white/male-led] VC funds rarely fund efforts by women/minorities, the smart answer is to do it ourselves. Also, women and minority entrepreneurs are still fighting for seats at the [white/male-led] majority funds, but also in the meantime, we are funding ourselves and making real waves.

Can you share with us a specific anecdote about the positive impact you’ve had in this field?

As a coach for ambitious women in male-majority fields, I have advised many women in the VC/tech/entrepreneurial worlds on outsmarting (or weathering or getting the heck out of) bro culture to thrive.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Any mogul of their industry who is wondering why women are not advancing to leadership in their organization at equal rates to men and/or want to make their organization more friendly and welcoming to top-talented people of all genders and all people.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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