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Venture capital firms are running to hire their first female general partners

Adding one woman GP is a tangible achievement — even if it’s a minimal one.

NEA general partner Carmen Chang
Carmen Chang, a new general partner at NEA

Top-tier venture capital firms are moving women into the upper ranks as general partners amid increased pressure to diversify as claims of widespread sexual harassment continue to resound through Silicon Valley.

New Enterprise Associates became the latest firm on Wednesday to add to the wave when it elevated Carmen Chang, a well-connected former lawyer who leads NEA’s China practice, to the general partner level. Chang is easily qualified, but the move also helps NEA — one of venture capital’s biggest firms — remove a particular stigma: NEA has never before had a woman in the senior investing rank at the firm.

Other well-known firms that have added their first female general partners in the last few months include Union Square Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and First Round Capital. Greylock Partners, which hasn’t had a female general partner in about a year, promoted Sarah Guo to the GP ranks last week — restoring Greylock to the one-woman general partnership it had prior. Same goes for Google Ventures, which once again has a female GP after hiring back Jess Verrilli, who previously worked there as a partner.

Why is this happening after decades of clubby leadership?

There is, at the least, newfound cognizance within venture capital firms that their all-male habit is a problem. VCs acknowledge that diversity within a firm leads to better financial returns, and some founders have even made rumblings in recent months that they would look down on firms — and perhaps walk away from deals — that have a team that does not reflect some sort of diversity. Nothing motivates change like the bottom line.

The cynical take: Venture capital firms are under immense pressure — both from within their community, thanks to organizations like All Raise, and from outside observers — to do better. The most intense scrutiny falls on firms that currently have no women who can write checks and lead their own deals, like Andreessen Horowitz. Adding one female GP at least removes some of the heat.

The reality is that it’s probably a combination of the two: Both a real desire to diversify and a real desire to answer critics. And nearly every firm that doesn’t have a female GP these days is said to be actively searching for one, though the urgency differs. The excuses are the same: There are too few GP openings. There are too few qualified internal candidates. There are too few external candidates — or we’re waiting for the superstar, like Marissa Mayer or Diane Green, to become available.

But the rub is that some firms have been able to find women to place in positions in power. All Raise says 9 percent of decision-makers at U.S. firms are women; it is beginning to route female candidates to venture capital firms seeking women investors (not just general partners) as part of an effort to double that figure over the next decade.

It’s obviously too early to assign them substantial credit, though the group — which is organized as a nonprofit and rolls up several smaller initiatives under a common banner — has at least begun to serve as a port of call in a recruitment search.

The challenge will be to make sure that diversity initiatives have enough teeth.

There have been other signs of progress: Dozens of venture capital firms have created and released their sexual harassment policies. Venture capital firms’ own investors, limited partners, say they are taking reference checks on their general partners more seriously. And of course, several alleged offenders have been ousted from their firms after their conduct was thrust into the spotlight by women they mistreated.

But adding one woman GP is a tangible achievement — even it’s if a minimal one, all things considered.

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