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Venerated VC Michael Moritz Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot on Question About Hiring Women

Moritz was talking with Bloomberg's Emily Chang.

Re/code

There are jarringly few women who work in the venture capital industry. Almost 80 percent of VC firms have never appointed a woman to represent them on the board of a portfolio company. In Sequoia Capital’s case that kind of move would actually be impossible; they don’t have any female VCs to appoint.

That’s why it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz in an interview with Bloomberg this week delivered an astoundingly out-of-touch and dismissive answer to questions about hiring women. Moritz is the chairman of Sequoia Capital, a former Google board member, a billionaire (three times over) and perhaps the closest thing Silicon Valley venture capital has to royalty; he was literally made a knight of the British Empire in 2013.

Moritz gave interviewer Emily Chang — who should be praised for refusing to let him off the hook over the course of the two minutes they spent talking about this — virtually every discredited stock answer in the book when Chang pointed out that Sequoia doesn’t have any women investing partners*.

  • We are gender-blind, race-blind, everything-blind: “I like to think, and genuinely believe, that we are blind to somebody’s sex, to their religion, to their background — we probably have more different nationalities working at Sequoia — it’s a very cosmopolitan setting. The fact that we’ve embraced China, embraced India, operated in Israel for a long time.”
  • It’s a “pipeline” education problem: “I think the issue begins in our high schools, and where women particularly in America and also in Europe, tend to elect not to study the sciences when they’re 11 or 12. So suddenly the hiring pool is much smaller.”
  • We’ll hire women, we just don’t want to lower our standards: “In fact, we just hired a young woman from Stanford who’s every bit as good as her peers. And if there are more like her, we’ll hire them. What we’re not prepared to do, is to lower our standards.”
  • We’re too busy focusing on performance to discriminate: “[The limited partners] care about performance. Our job is to field the very best team at Sequoia — whether they’re black or white or female or male or Muslim or Christian — we don’t care.”

For years, women and diversity advocates in tech have argued against this kind of thinking, pointing out that it enables and perpetuates the institutional discrimination that affects women in the industry: If you are gender-blind, then why is your firm practically all-male? Who is suggesting that Sequoia “lower [its] standards” to bring in more women?

In a statement Sequoia provided to Re/code, Moritz said, “I know there are many remarkable women who would flourish in the venture business. We’re working hard to find them and would be ecstatic if more joined Sequoia or other firms.”

Sequoia spokesman Andrew Kovacs also noted over the phone that the firm has three female investors in China and two female investors in India, and added that while people “rightly” point out that Sequoia has no investing partners in the U.S., both its CFO and marketing partner are women.

Below is the full text of Moritz’s remarks (minus Chang’s questions) and here’s a link to the video interview.

We think about it a lot. I like to think, and genuinely believe, that we are blind to somebody’s sex, to their religion, to their background — we probably have more different nationalities working at Sequoia — it’s a very cosmopolitan setting. The fact that we’ve embraced China, embraced India, operated in Israel for a long time. The real question you might have is why for example aren’t there more women?

We have many more women working in our China business than our U.S. business. I think the issue begins in our high schools, and where women particularly in America and also in Europe, tend to elect not to study the sciences when they’re 11 or 12. So suddenly the hiring pool is much smaller.

We look very hard. In fact, we just hired a young woman from Stanford who’s every bit as good as her peers. And if there are more like her, we’ll hire them. What we’re not prepared to do, is to lower our standards. But if there are fabulously bright, driven women who are very interested in technology, very hungry to succeed and can meet our performance standards we’ll hire them all day and night.

[The limited partners] care about performance. Our job is to field the very best team at Sequoia — whether they’re black or white or female or male or Muslim or Christian — we don’t care.

* Sequoia does have one female analyst on the investment team.

https://twitter.com/sequoia/status/672502717131034624

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.