VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

Last month, I had the honor of curating and moderating a VC panel at the TFQ Girls’ Lounge at SXSW.  If you take a look at the video thumbnail below, you will see that this was not your typical investor panel. It was a truly diverse group, made up of:

Christine Herron, Co-lead – Intel Capital Diversity Fund
Sean Jacobsohn, Partner – Norwest Venture Capital
Suzy Ryoo, Venture Partner – Atom Factory and Cross Culture Ventures
Aditi Maliwal, Corporate Development – Google (formerly w /Crosslink Captial)

Much of our conversation was focused on fundraising but, as we were in the TFQ Girls Lounge, we also spent time discussing diversity, or the lack thereof, in the tech industry. I purposefully opted not to recite the dismal statistics of how many women VCs there are or how little money goes to female founders. Constantly regurgitating the numbers is not a way to encourage up and coming entrepreneurs or investors.

It is clear we need more diverse folks at every level of our ecosystem – LPs, VCs, Angels, Founders, Board Members, etc. It will take some time to see significant change but I, for one, am very optimistic. There are a handful of amazing organizations and groups focused on tackling these issues, like Project Include, Pipeline Fellowship, and The Boardlist. Over the past 18 months, just about every major tech company has published diversity numbers, and has committed to finding best practices for attracting and retaining women and people of color. In addition, many notable VCs have been focused on bringing more diversity into their partnerships. There are also more women than ever out raising funds of their own. Again, none of this is easy or happening overnight. As Christine Herron points out, funds have a 10 year life cycle so our industry doesn’t lend itself to quick change. At the end of the day, this is an industry that is driven by returns, and research has proven that women-led companies and companies with women (and other minorities) on their senior teams perform better. The numbers are driving the change and the numbers cannot be ignored.

In our panel discussion, we also talked about diversity and inclusion on a micro level. In other words, what are the steps that each of us can take on an individual basis to impact change in our ecosystem. Suzy Ryoo offered up some specifics, which she had recently shared via a thoughtful blogpost entitled, “The Only Woman in the Room”.

Special thanks to Sean Jacobsohn for joining us on the panel.  As we say at TFQ, if we could have done it alone, we would have by now. It takes men and women working together to impact change.

You can listen to the entirety of the conversation in the video below.




The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle

Diversity/Equality Personal Development

I learned the term “The Messy Middle” via my work with Shelley Zalis and The Girls Lounge. The Messy Middle refers to the pipeline problem that most corporations experience, where the number of men and women in junior roles is fairly even and then, as you move up the ranks, there is a major drop-off in women. This is due to the gender wage gap, unconscious bias, and other corporate issues, as well as women leaving the work force to start families and not returning (which can often be tied back to poor corporate policies and culture).

What I didn’t realize, until an Oprah-style “A-Ha” moment I had whilst lunching with a dear friend, is that I have been in my own version of “The Messy Middle.” And I am not even at a major corporation. Nor do I have children (outside my furbaby Joanie).

I am a 40 year old woman who has been in the startup space (both operations and investment) for close to two decades. These past few years I have been going through what I will call “a transformation” – which has mostly been very powerful and positive. But a lot has been going on in my head and my heart, which has been making me feel a bit, well, ”messy.” Indeed, life itself is messy, but this middle time, at middle age, seems particularly so.

Now “middle-aged” is not a moniker I like and/or associate with. And, in this day and age, 40 isn’t even middle-aged anymore (right?). But what I have discovered while having some deep conversations with my female friends (mostly ranging 35-45), is that all of us are doing a great deal of self-work. We all seem to be spending a lot of time and energy examining: 1) the nearly two decades of our work selves, 2) our priorities, passions and purpose and 3) how we define happiness.

Yes, middle age seems like a perfectly logical time to be assessing the first half of your life and making adjustment/improvements for the second. But for women, it is more than that. At 40, we find ourselves serving multiple roles:

1. Career women (who have often had their heads down working twice as hard as men to get recognized, promoted and paid equally)
2. Wives
3. Mothers
4. Single people who, whether grappling with marriage and child-bearing or not, are constantly barraged with inquiries as to why we are single and childless
5. Care-takers to our parents

Playing all these roles is exhausting and impossible to balance (yes, I hate that word too). The only savior is to really spend time in one’s own head and heart evaluating what’s most important to your own fulfillment – which is usually quite different from when you last checked in during your 20’s and 30’s.

The good news for women here is that we are open communicators and have nurtured deep support systems to help us along the way. If I did not have a kickass group of women that I trust and respect to talk to, this messy middle would be a whole lot lonelier and great deal messier. Also, I found that when I was sharing what I was going through, not only was I not alone, I picked up terrific advice and actionable tools for re-assessing and re-aligning.

I share some of my “self-work” in this post. Hopefully, it helps others work through some of their “messy” to make whatever adjustments they need in order to live their best lives.

As my dear friend Shelley says, #PowerofthePack.

The Year of the Woman at Milken Institutes Global Summit

The Year of the Woman at Milken Institutes Global Summit

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

Kudos to the Milken Institute for putting on an amazing Global Summit this year.  Yes, they do a great job every year, but this year was special.  They chose to place an emphasis on girls and women, both in their programming and in their attendance.  30% of the attendees were women this year, a significant increase from prior years.  Day 2 of the conference was particularly impactful as the lunch program (which everyone attends) was a 2 hour program that featured Patricia Arquette speaking about pay equality, Frida Pinto discussing how to help advance young women in India, and Willow Bay moderating a panel called “What Would You Do to Make the World Better for Women and Girls? A Conversation and Call to Action”.

I was honored to be on a panel alongside a handful of powerhouse women called “Women Challenging the Status Quo.”  Check out the video below:

RIP Muriel Siebert / Women For Change

RIP Muriel Siebert / Women For Change


My first job was as an investment banker. Yes, I wore banker blue Brooks Brothers suits for 2 years (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone;). This was longer ago than I’d like to admit. There were few women in finance, but the numbers seemed to be growing. Back then, there were a select handful of Wall Street women at the forefront, in senior roles paving the way for the rest of us. Muriel Siebert, who passed away at age 84 yesterday, was one of the few, and she was truly a pioneer. She was the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, having been admitted in 1963. I had the pleasure of meeting her once. She was whipsmart and a force for change and good.

Unfortunately, change in the finance industry has happened much slower than either Muriel, myself or womankind would like or expect. Rachel Sklar wrote an amazing piece on this yesterday that inspired me to share my own thoughts here. Rachel’s piece included the below Siebert quote:

“Firms are doing what they have to do, legally,” she said. “But women are coming into Wall Street in large numbers — and they still are not making partner and are not getting into the positions that lead to the executive suites. There’s still an old-boy network. You just have to keep fighting.”

Muriel said this in 1992, nearly 30 years after securing her NYSE seat. I feel like this quote could have just as easily come out of my mouth in 1999. And I, sadly, have the feeling that some form of this quote is still being uttered by women up and down Wall Street today.

So what’s going on here? Where is the change? Where is the acceptance/acknowledgement that women, who are graduating college at higher rates than men, are more than qualified to make it to the senior ranks? And, of course, that women are worthy of, and deserve, equal pay. It turns out that change, on a societal scale, happens slowly. This is not just evidenced by gender issues, but also that of race and sexual preference.

It is sad, but true, that women in finance (and tech and government and lots of other industries) often have to work twice as hard as men, and still don’t achieve the same title/responsibility/pay. It is also sad, but true, that when women write about it, men often quip that we are having a pity party (as evidenced by several ridiculous comments by men that appear below Rachel’s article). But, as Muriel stated, “we must keep fighting.” Be a “Doer”, as actions speak louder than words. Take charge, push through the bullshit, and become whatever your version of Muriel Siebert or Hillary Clinton or Marissa Mayer looks like.

This is why I am 110% in support of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” initiative. I don’t agree with everything Sheryl says or writes, but I am in full support of a resurgence of the Feminist Movement. And for those of you that don’t like the word Feminist, call it whatever you want. The word is less important than the belief and the action and the coming together of women to help and support each other and our own cause. Ladies, lets keep fighting to be the change we wish to see in our industries – and the world.

Learn more about Muriel Siebert here.
Read Rachel’s post here.

Team Marissa

Team Marissa

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

In case you have been living under a rock (or perhaps you’re on vacation? which likely means you do not work for a startup;), I wanted to update you on one of the week’s most infuriating trending stories. Marissa Mayer is featured in this month’s Vogue, which I (and most women) thought was terrific. Unfortunately, despite it being her first lengthy interview since taking the helm of Yahoo!, one in which she talks about her successes in a male-dominated tech world, the accompanying photo (shown below) was all most folks were talking about.

This photo generated tons of negative commentary. Really? Because a female CEO can’t like fashion – or be fashionable? Or is it because she is a tech CEO, so posing in Vogue is not appropriate? Or is it because a woman leader should always look serious so she can be taken seriously? RIDICULOUS. I could go on a long rant here, but instead I’ll provide a photo of a brilliant, wildly successful male CEO. I am quite sure this photo did not get half the negative air coverage that Marissa’s did.

This month Yahoo! surpassed Google with regards to monthly uniques for the first time in years! For those of you cheering on Marissa as much as I am, here is an article about her childhood, her years at Stanford, her time at Google, and her recruitment to become the CEO of Yahoo!!

Marissa Mayer – “Game On”

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

I, like most folks, was thrilled to learn that Marissa Mayer was chosen to be the next CEO of Yahoo!  And they chose her knowing she is pregnant. Go Yahoo!   Mayer, only 37,  is the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500. Go Marissa!

If anyone can bring Yahoo! back to prominence, it is Marissa Mayer. She is not only muy inteligente (she is an engineer who holds patents in Artificial Intelligence), she is young, hip, fashionable and feminine . The second half of that sentence may seem silly to point out, and even irrelevant, but it is absolutely NOT.  It is relevant to both  the “what to do with Yahoo!” conversation and the “how do we get more women into technology” discussion.

Let’s start with what to do with Yahoo!

Yahoo! has had 5 CEOs in 5 years.  Holy crap,!!   For years, it  has been a company in turmoil,  struggling with loss of talent and slowed growth.   BUT,  on any given day, Yahoo! has upwards of 20 million article views and, in any give month, 700 million people visit the site.   Though it will be a mighty challenge, the opportunity to reboot Yahoo! is HUGE.  So what should the company do?  I think the answer is to focus on WOMEN.  A nd who better to lead that charge than a pioneering woman in tech like Marissa Mayer?  I had some thoughts about this, and then I came across a spot-on post,  titled “Pink is the New Purple“, by Dave McClure.  Here are some highlights from his post:

“….  what if Marissa used Yahoo as a bully pulpit, to address the needs of a market that is roughly 50% or more of the global internet population? What if Yahoo began acquiring or partnering with properties specifically relevant to women, like Pinterest, ShoeDazzle, Gilt Groupe, BabyCenter, EcoMom, Oprah, ……Martha Stewart (or,……?”

FashionTech / Fashion 2.0 / Social Commerce (whatever you want to call it) is crushing it right now.  There are tons of new online businesses aimed at girls/women/mothers that are generating a tremendous amount of traffic, revenue and profit.   And if they were not founded by women, they tend to have lots of female employees.  As a whipsmart businesswoman, a self-proclaimed online shop-aholic, and a mommy-to-be, I know Marissa has gotta be all over this.   She has, in fact, angel invested in several of these companies, including OneKingsLane and  Brit Media.  Mayer is the leading “Woman on the Web” right now, and she has a kickass opportunity to partner with kickass businesses for women (that are often by women) and turn Yahoo! into the leading destination for “Women on the Web.”

Now let’s hop from the impact Marissa could have by focusing Yahoo! on women, and discuss the impact she is already having on helping to attract women to the tech industry.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t come across an article that discusses the lack of women in technology.  Marissa was already a stand-out role model for this cause.  Now, as the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500, she is even more prominent.  And she is definitely not shy about using her status as a platform for encouraging young women to get into technology. Below is one of numerous quotes from Marissa on this topic.

‎”One of the things I care a lot about is helping to… show girls that you can be feminine, you can like the things that girls like, but you can also be really good at technology.”

Marissa Mayer is a hip and fashionable female that young women can relate to.  With women now making up over 50% of undergraduates,  lots of young girls will now look at Marissa and her accomplishments, and be more inclined to study math, science, and programming in pursuit of a powerhouse career in tech.

Go Marissa!

Hopefully Marissa is reading this (ahahahaha!), or, more likely, Dave McClure’s blog.  Ms. Mayer – you are the right woman, at the right time, and the right place to have a powerful impact on women (students, consumers, employees, founders) all over this world.  C’mon sista, you got this!  Us women are watching you eagerly!



Architects of Change – Maria Shriver, The Women’s Conference, Empowering Women/Female Entrepreneurs

Diversity/Equality Personal Development

I have long been a fan of Maria Shriver.  She is a strong woman who uses her voice to implement change and do good. She authored one of my favorite books – “Just Who Will You Be.”  It is a small book with a big message.   In it, she offers up a very candid look into some of her own struggles with her identity and purpose in life.   She then shares a poem that she read at her godson’s college graduation.   The crux of the book is “It is not what you do in your life that matters, it’s who you are”.   The book is ideal for high school and college kids, but really appeals to anyone looking for a life of meaning (which I hope is everybody!).   This book was my Holiday present to absolutely everyone of my family and friends a few years back.

In 2004, Shriver became First Lady of California and took over what, at the time, was a small conference called The Women’s Conference.   She has since turned into the largest one-day conference for women in the nation.   As such, TWC attracts high-profile speakers – world opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, tastemakers, spiritual figures, authors, journalists, artists, and, yes, THE OPRAH WINFREY.   It is an event in which women from all walks of life to share perspectives, find common ground, and undergo transformative experiences.   If you are not familiar with this conference, you must spend some time at     This year’s speakers included  Jane FondaDeepak Chopra, Carol Bartz, and Michelle Obama, among a long list of others. You can check out the First Lady’s emotional speech here:


One of my favorite aspects of TWC is its emphasis on entrepreneurship and women in business.  I believe it is very important for successful women to share their knowledge and experiences with other women through networking and support groups.  I am also a strong proponent of investing time, through volunteer work and mentoring, to teach young women entrepreneurship, as it empowers them to achieve their dreams and take control of their destinies. Check out Ladies Who Launch and SMARTYpeople for the former and Girls Leadership Institute, Girls, Inc., and Girls CEO for the latter.   The following  is a Women’s Conference compilation of “How I did it” stories from successful female entrepreneurs – .  Make sure to read the amazing story of the first female space explorer ANOUSHEH ANSARI, Co-founder of Prodea Systems.   Some of the tips that most resonate with me and the advice I often give to young entrepreneurs are:

Believe in yourself and in your success
Be humble enough to seek guidance from others
Stay flexible
Pay attention to your team and their needs

The last gem I will share about Maria Shriver and her legacy of empowering women is her 10 Ways Women Can Be an Architect of Change.  I am sharing it with every woman I know and I hope you do the same.  My favorite Ghandi quote is  “each of us must be the change we want to see.”   Read this list, get inspired, become empowered, take action, and impact change.

1. Find your own unique voice and listen to what it’s saying.

2. Empower a young woman. Become a mentor by connecting with a young woman in your workplace, neighborhood or place of worship. Find small ways to reach out, listen and support her.

3. Act locally to make a difference globally. Make informed choices about what you buy and consume, as well as how you dispose of items. Reduce your carbon footprint, use energy and water responsibly and green your life.

4. Advocate for a cause that you care deeply about. Your time and expertise could help make a difference as a volunteer, counselor or board member.

5. Invest in women entrepreneurs. Join Team Maria in the WE Invest/Kiva partnership to give women the tools to start or expand their own businesses. For as little as $25, you can “Become a lender. Change a life.”

6. Speak up & ask for what you need. If you need to take time off of your job to care for a child or parent, ask for it. Families need more flexible work schedules, better child care policies and changes in family and medical leave. We need to use our voices collectively to improve workplace policies.

7. Engage your children in the world. As a mother, get your children involved at a young age in seeing the world through the eyes of others, respecting diversity, developing empathy and understanding the gift of giving back.

8. Donate to nonprofits that help women. Instead of purchasing a birthday, anniversary or holiday gift for family, friends and colleagues, make a donation in someone’s name to a nonprofit that works on improving the lives of women and girls.

9. Be an informed citizen. Educate yourself about the world you live in, share your knowledge, educate others and ignite a conversation.

10. Invite 10 of your friends to join The Women’s Conference online community at WWW.WOMENSCONFERENCE.ORG — The Home for Architects of Change.