The VC “Boys Clubs”

Posted by Sophie Forest on Nov 21, 2016

Last week, I presented at an AGM of a large institutional Fund from Toronto.  Out of the dozens presenters, a mix of tech companies and Funds, I was the only woman.  This situation did not surprise me at all and I find that worrisome. For 20 years, I have been the only managing partner of a VC fund in Canada and I have often been the only woman at Board meetings.

Thankfully, I have also noticed that things are changing in favour of gender equality. In light of International Women’s Day on November 18, I thought I would highlight some of my experiences and insights working with women entrepreneurs and being one myself.

Our industries – tech and venture capital - are not known to be traditionally gender-friendly. When I joined Brightspark as a managing partner in 2003, I was in discussion with two firms, both with 100% male partners and no female involved in the investment capacity in any shape or form.  The first firm really wanted me to join because of my experience, expertise and network. It was a large, well-funded Canadian firm and I was seriously considering it.  And then there was Brightspark, a firm where I knew and trusted the partners.  At the time – and still today! – the firm was really entrepreneurial and I loved the culture. The downside was that it was still in development and funding was not yet secured. I went to the final stages of discussions with both firms and while my heart was really going for Brightspark, my head was still considering the other, more secure option.  Then, the “non-Brightspark” managing partner calls me to confirm a few things and says: « I know you have young kids and I want to make sure that if I want to call a meeting at 6 in the morning or 8 at night, it will not be an issue with you! ».  This comment really caught me off guard. I have always worked really hard, over the weekends, early mornings or evenings has never been an issue.  But just the fact that he assumed that motherhood would get in the way of my work and felt the need to go over this with me completely killed the opportunity for me.  Wrong culture, wrong message, wrong way to bring a woman into your team!  My partners at Brightspark have been the complete opposite of this.  Embracing diversity, working with each other’s strengths, respecting each other and being completely open to including women at an equal level in the firm.  This is a huge part of our strength!  At Brightspark, we make decisions based on our complementary views and perceptions and this has been critical to our success. We have the track record to prove that it works and I believe it is actually essential to any performing team.

Since Mark and I started investing based on our new model, we have invested in 5 companies, 2 of which have a woman CEO.  This was not a choice we made to support more women - although I am really happy it happened this way -  but more a natural evolution of us selecting the best deals and management teams. We see more and more startup companies led by amazing, driven women.  We are thrilled to support them and believe they will create tremendous value for us. 

This attitude is also reflected in the Brightspark team, where the men are actually outnumbered! It’s very encouraging to me to see these bright young women be so passionate about tech and venture capital.  Together, we are building one the of most diverse and inclusive VC teams (and portfolio!) in Canada.

A few weeks ago, we had the first woman investing in one of our deals, other than myself of course.  We are thrilled about it and welcomed her with open arms!  Only after a few hundreds of individuals invested in our fund, did we get the first female investorI I hope we get many more in the years to come, because the individual, private investment world is another Boys Club that needs to be opened up!

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