Workplace Issues

VC Industry Makes Slow Progress on Diversity

Despite their wide recognition for exerting a positive effect on business results, diversity and inclusion programs remain relatively rare among VC...
David McCannJuly 8, 2019
VC Industry Makes Slow Progress on Diversity

Venture capital has unquestionably driven economic growth over the past few decades. To what extent isn’t perfectly clear, but it’s a type of financing that appeals to hordes of innovative, forward-looking companies.

However, the VC industry is arguably somewhat out of step with the times with respect to one highly visible attribute. Oddly, it’s one that many VC-backed companies likely deem important to their chances for success: embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

In a survey of 1,428 venture capital firms by Deloitte and the National Venture Capital Association (NCVA), less than a third of the respondents said their firm has a diversity strategy (32%) or an inclusion strategy (31%).

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To be sure, those figures represent an improvement from a previous iteration of the survey conducted in 2016. Then, less than 20% of participants reported that their firms had any D&I strategy.

Still, NVCA president and CEO Bobby Franklin said the new survey shows that “VCs still have a long way to go in fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace for investment professionals.”

The survey does enable the organization to benchmark progress over time, and it’s seeing some “important ripples of positive taking place,” Franklin noted.

He continued, “The challenge, however, is that diversity and inclusion is a critical issue, and it demands continued and sustained changes that have yet to materialize across the industry.” He said the association plans to use the survey results to help VC firms “take full advantage of the wide talent pool available to them.”

While women comprised 45% of the workforce at participating firms, only 21% of their investment professionals and 14% of their senior-level leaders were women. Two-thirds of those surveyed said their firms did not have and female investment partners, and among those that did, 74% had only one.

Again, those numbers all represented improvements of only a few percentage points from the 2016 survey. Given the potential business impact of D&I, it may be surprising that change isn’t faster and stronger.

“Diversity and inclusion are powerful growth levers for venture capital firms, regardless of their size or focus,” said Heather Gates, national managing director of the emerging growth company practice at Deloitte & Touche. “Studies have shown that hiring more female investment professionals is correlated to enhanced returns, better recruiting, and talent retention, as well as more profitable exits and overall improved financial health for funds.”

But the needle is moving very slowly for racial D&I. The survey found only slight improvements for black and Hispanic representation since 2016. Just 4% of employees and 3% of investment partners were black, and the corresponding figures for Hispanics were 5% and 3%.

“Change may be happening, but it’s happening at different rates for different groups, and that can be a problem,” said Terri Cooper, Deloitte’s chief inclusion officer. “This year’s report underscores the on-the-ground, day-to-day work we still have to do to make diversity and inclusion a high-priority agenda item for organizations across industries, venture capital included.”