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VCs don’t have a pipeline problem, they have a Harvard/Stanford crisis

(FINANCE) With 40% of all VCs graduating from just two schools, the diversity challenge of Silicon Valley is leaking out of The Bay.

harvard stanford VCs

If you’ve pitched or even spoken with a venture capitalist before, odds are one of them went to Stanford or Harvard (and in some cases, they don’t let you forget it).

A new study shows out of a survey of over 1,500 VCs (venture capitalists,) a whopping 40 percent of them attended either Harvard or Stanford. We knew it was a big number, but 40% from just two schools?! Dang.

Although these programs are without a doubt impressive, this study spotlights the ever-present issue of diversity of VCs in Silicon Valley and technology in general.

As far as other stats go, still 70% of VCs are men (60% of VCs are white men), Asian representation climbed from 23% to 26% from 2016 to 2018, women jumped from 11% to 18% from 2016 to 2018, and Hispanic representation still remains at 1%.

Woof. The industry is slowly progressing, but there’s much more improvement to be made.

So why does this matter?

It’s no shocker that technology and especially VC firms struggle with both gender and ethnic diversity.

As a female founder myself, I’m not surprised that only 3% of founders receiving venture capital funding are women. Out of the dozens of VCs that I’ve met and also pitched to, I’ve only met two that are women.

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However, educational diversity is a topic where we’re only beginning to skim the surface, and honestly, it’s long overdue.

In the workplace and even in the VC world, humans are just as prone to implicit and explicit biases: people want to work with people that look and think like themselves. It’s a huge part of how Silicon Valley operates.

Schools like Stanford and Harvard have relatively small alumni bases compared to other large universities in the US and around the world. (For instance, my alma mater, Texas A&M has 640,000 living alumni, and Stanford has 220,000.)

According to Richard Kerbey, an African-American VC who performed this study, believes: “Not only is our industry lacking in gender and racial balance, but we also suffer from a lack of cognitive diversity…It is not a coincidence that the amount of capital raised by minorities and women closely resembles their representation among venture capitalists. And furthermore, it is no surprise as to why the demographics of most venture-backed startups also reflects the demographics of the venture capitalists that fund these companies.”

Venture capitalists usually hire people like themselves and invest in things they usually understand. That doesn’t make them evil or bad, just limited.

Therefore, when someone tells me the lack of venture capital diversity is from a “pipeline problem,” I don’t believe them.

This is why the work of people like Arlan Hamilton at Backstage Capital and Preston L. James, II at DivInc. is so important. Once we have VCs that represent the world we live in from a variety of socioeconomic, ethnic, gender, and educational backgrounds, the better the world and Silicon Valley will be for it.

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Want to see more data in the study? Check out Kerbey’s Medium Post and his dataset for some ~fun~ reading, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Elise Graham Kennedy is a business writer at The American Genius and is an Austin-based digital strategist. She's a seasoned entrepreneur, started and sold two companies, and was on a TV show for her app. You can usually find her watching The Office on her couch with her dog and husband.

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