SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Moritz is taking heat for controversial remarks he made about why one of Silicon Valley’s most famous venture capital firms has no female investing partners.
When asked by Bloomberg’s Emily Chang if he was seeking out women to fill positions at Sequoia Capital, Moritz said he hasn’t been able to find any.
“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,” said Moritz, one of the best-known venture capitalists in Silicon Valley who built a fortune by investing in the likes of Google, Apple, YouTube and PayPal.
He continued: “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. … Our job is to field the very best team.”
The backlash came swiftly on social media and in scathing headlines, such as this one from technology news outlet Re/code, “Venerated VC Michael Moritz Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot on Question About Hiring Women,” or this one from Vanity Fair, “Silicon Valley V.C. Firm Can’t Find Any Women.”
“The belief that hiring women and having high standards are somehow at odds is as incorrect as it is offensive,” said Joelle Emerson, CEO and founder of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with tech companies on diversity and inclusion.
In response to growing criticism of his comments, Moritz released the following statement: “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 Capital also tweeted: “We need to do better.”
Sequoia Capital spokesman Andrew Kovacs noted the firm has three female investing partners in China and three in India but conceded it has none in the U.S. It has one female analyst on the investing team.
Silicon Valley for decades has wrestled with its lack of gender diversity from the boardroom to the executive suite to the rank and file. Yet the venture capital industry — made up almost entirely of white men — has the distinction of being the most exclusive club in Silicon Valley.
That matters because these are the financiers who mint billionaires and fund companies, some of which go on to become the world’s most powerful. Yet women make up a tiny fraction of investing partners at Silicon Valley venture capital firms and also make up a much smaller percentage of investments made by these firms.
Diversity advocates have called on venture capital firms to make significant changes in the wake of a closely watched gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, another of Silicon Valley’s most famous firms. Ellen Pao lost her case but international news coverage of the trial trained the spotlight on the stark lack of women and underrepresented minorities in the clubby profession.
Emerson says venture capital has a lot of work to do to recruit women and underrepresented minorities and to create a more inclusive work culture.
“Many of the hiring practices that tech companies and VC firms rely on are poor practices that are not only filtering out diverse candidates, but unintentionally lowering standards,” Emerson said. “For example, the pool from which VC firms hire is surprisingly narrow. It’s telling that Moritz doesn’t know whether any ‘fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology’ exist. By broadening this pool and creating a more objective, structured process for evaluating candidates, firms will both improve the quality of their hiring and hire more people from underrepresented backgrounds.”
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