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VC Mike Moritz's Comments on Gender Disparity Aren't Uncommon in Silicon Valley (Unfortunately)

The well-known Sequoia Capital VC isn't a fringe case.

Scott Olson and Araya Diaz via Getty

This week, everyone got yet another reminder of just how male-dominated the world of venture capital really is.

Michael Moritz, the well-known chairman of Sequoia Capital, told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang in an interview that it he’d love to hire women, assuming he could ever find some really qualified ones.

Said Sir Michael, who has had big wins by investing in companies like Google, Apple, PayPal and many others: “Oh, 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 … If there are fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology, very hungry to succeed and can meet our performance standards, we’d hire them all day and night.”

Concluded the VC, who apparently is unable to do that, using a sports metaphor: “Our job is to field the very best team.”

The remarks set off a storm of criticism aimed at Moritz, including a post at Vanity Fair titled “Silicon Valley V.C. Firm Can’t Find Any Women: The Problem Is You, Not Him,” with the epic first line: “Here’s some news for all the many smart, driven, capable young women interested in working in technology: Apparently, you don’t exist.”

Although the Ellen Pao versus Kleiner Perkins lawsuit from earlier this year sparked a much-needed conversation about the paucity of women in venture capital (and the discrimination faced by those in the industry), Moritz’s remarks are just another reminder that many in Silicon Valley still harbor the notion that there are no qualified women available.

Which means fewer women-led companies. One study from earlier this year indicates that firms comprised of more women are more likely to invest in companies led by women. Unfortunately, a recent survey co-published by VC Social+Capital and The Information noted that the venture capital sector is about 92 percent male.

But Moritz shouldn’t be the only one put under the magnifying glass, as there are other high-profile venture capitalists who’ve offered just as cockamamie explanations and defenses of how and why their field is so male-dominated. Their arguments run from “girls don’t like computers” to outright denials that gender diversity really matters all that much.

Here are two prominent examples from the past few months:

Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz co-founder

In an interview with Re/code Executive Editor Kara Swisher in early May, Horowitz addressed the idea of making gender diversity a goal in hiring.

“I know the firm would get 1,000 times more credit if we had one woman general partner (the people who make investments), rather than if I had 53 percent of the firm being women,” he said. “But that’s the least impactful thing I could do, because no one in the firm reports to a general partner.”

(Here’s a link to the video of the full conversation with Swisher, so you can better understand the full context.)

UPDATE: This weekend, Horowitz added to and clarified his remarks onstage at the event with Swisher:

“In addition to the work we’ve done throughout the firm, it will symbolically important for the industry when we bring on a woman GP, but it will be 1,000 times more important when she becomes one of the very top investors in the field. It’s that need for success that makes it important for us to bring her on in the right way with the right process. So far we’ve failed at that, but we won’t stop trying.”

And Marc Andreessen, prolific Twitter user and Horowitz’s co-head honcho, has been the subject of scrutiny on this issue, as well. At the beginning of November, tech industry consultant and critic Aminatou Sow penned a Medium post asking why Andreessen was blocking so many women on Twitter, particularly many advocates for women in Silicon Valley. (To be fair, he does block many others and does not explain himself on those either.)

Paul Graham, Y Combinator co-founder

Two years ago, Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham told The Information, “It’s already too late” to get women into the YC incubator program.

“What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that,” Graham added. “God knows what you would do to get 13-year-old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that.”

(From a Fortune article earlier this year: “In 2013, only 26 percent of computing professionals were female — down considerably from 35 percent in 1990 and virtually the same as in 1960.”)

In a recent blog post, Graham said that “incivility” is causing “more thoughtful people” to exit the conversation about gender in tech.

And more: Previously, Graham said in 2005 that he “would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon,” and didn’t really distance himself from those remarks when asked by Valleywag about them in 2013.

Sam Altman, the current leader of Y Combinator, has tried to appear more sensitive on these issues, with limited success. In January, the company blogged the gender and racial makeup of its latest class of founders, of which 11.1 percent were women and 23 percent have founder teams that include women.

“The good news,” according to post author and YC partner Michael Seibel, “is that there is no disadvantage to applying to YC as a female or minority founder.”

In response to Moritz’s recent remarks, Altman said over email that because he had been traveling, “I’m not sure what [Moritz] meant and I haven’t watched the video, but obviously I think our four women partners are great.” The four partners Altman is referring to are Jessica Livingston, Kat Manalac, Carolynn Levy and Kristy Nathoo.

Graham could not be reached for comment, as Altman said he is in England at the moment.

And though Moritz is just the latest most glaring examples of prominent venture capitalists dropping the ball on gender, the sordid details from the Pao trial and in many other incidents in the tech industry make it obvious that the problem is pervasive.

However, because of the work of many in the industry, things are changing, albeit slowly. The National Venture Capital Association made a “gender diversity pledge” in August of this year. A few different high-profile VCs have begun calling the scarcity of women in tech for what it is, instead of falling back on the usual platitudes.

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