WTF? Invest in Women and BIPOC Founders, now.

A cartoon of a man sitting a top a huge mountain of Cheerios, while two women look at their three little Cheerios. One woman is looking at the man with the thought bubble "WTF?"
Original Cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published on LinkedIn on June 15th, 2021.

Welcome to SheInvests Newsletter #10.

WTF? In our family it means, what the fudge? That said, the other meaning is appropriate too. Really appropriate. The above drawing, courtesy of my ongoing collaboration with the incredible Liza Donnelly, shows the percentage of venture capital dollars, represented by Cheerios, going to male founders versus female founders. I wrote about these numbers and what it means in great detail in SheInvests #3, the now infamous Cheerios piece. This month, I asked Liza to draw what I talked about in that piece, and with your help, we want to make this image ubiquitous. The image above represents the gross inequity of capital flowing to women, especially women of color, and it is time that we fully acknowledge the far-ranging effects of biased capital, and more importantly, do something about it.

The ‘something’ I am specifically championing is to invest in early-stage private equity funds started by women and BIPOC* founders. And if you are reading this and are thinking, “This article is not for me because I don’t have enough money to invest in funds”, I urge you to keep reading. Funds are successful because the companies they invest in are successful, and that happens when we purchase or advocate for the purchase of the products and services of the funded companies. This means we all have a role to play in democratizing access to capital. We all have the power, through our investing, spending, giving, and advocacy, to shift the financial and economic outcomes for ourselves and for others. In fact, that is what we are doing all day, every day, without even knowing it.

If you already read the Cheerios article, thank you. But if you haven’t, let me briefly catch you up. That newsletter was inspired by the latest data that showed that the most women founders have ever received in a given year was just 2.8% of all venture capital dollars. For Black and Latina founders, that percentage was 0.2%. Put another way, male founders received 97.2% of venture capital dollars. It has been argued that women are less likely to start the types of businesses that attract VC capital, blah blah blah… But even if that is partially true, it is not 97.2% true. Furthermore, as an active angel investor myself, as well as an active early-stage fund investor, I know that the deal flow is robust from women and BIPOC founders. It just is.

A photo of a pile of Cheerios on a counter. Three Cheerios are separated for women, a small pile of crumbs is separated for WOC, and the rest are for men.

This is all incredibly important, because when businesses receive an influx of capital, they generally hire people, often including equity as part of the compensation. This grows the wealth of not only the founders, but those they hire as well. And given that Black and brown founders are more likely to hire Black and brown employees, that wealth is passed on. It is the wealth effect that has served white men forever. But to change the output, you need to change the input. Of course, this is the point in the paragraph where something in me wants to type – yes there are wonderful white men who get money and instinctively care about diversifying their employee base and their board, but the numbers also say that most do not. In this world we live in, we give way too much credit for good intentions, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion. That’s why I am advocating for following the money trail to better understand commitment to values, not just words.

Another highlight from my Cheerios piece that is worth pulling in here are the numbers related to who makes the decisions regarding where those VC dollars go:

  • 5.6% of all VC firms in the US are women-led, and only 2.1% of VC firms are founded by a woman of color.
  • 4.9% of all VC partners in the US are women, and only 2.4% of all VC partners are Founding female partners.
  • 73% of all women-led VC firms were founded in the last 5 years (since 2015).
  • 23% of women-led firms are currently raising their first fund, and 44% are deploying Fund I.
  • 90% of all women-led funds are considered emerging managers.

Why does this matter SO SO SO much? Because people who share demographics in common, including gender, race, ethnicity, etc., are more likely to invest in people who share those same demographics. If we want to broaden who gets the capital, we simply have to broaden who makes the decisions about where that capital goes. For example, do you watch Shark Tank? I do, a lot, and I both love it and absolutely hate it for a lot of reasons that could probably fill a whole other newsletter. But what I specifically want to note is how often the Sharks opt-in, or opt-out, because the businesses are “not in their wheelhouse”, or because they “cannot relate to the business as a ___”. I admit I do not know the actual statistics from the show, but I can guarantee the women sharks are way more likely to fund the women-founded businesses, and vice versa. Additionally, I’m willing to bet that the Black sharks are more likely to fund the Black founders, etc. If someone has data on this, please share. But regardless, if you assume that human nature is human nature, then in order to change who gets the money, you need to change who is allocating it.

This has been my work (with help!) for the past several months; to identify early-stage funds founded by managers (General Partners / GPs) who are women and people of color, with an emphasis on identifying Black women GPs. I believe that as an investor, and a white woman with capital who wants to align my money with a gender and racial impact lens, funding these Black and brown women is the single, most impactful interventions/investments I can make. Let me explain further, building on the above, after giving you a few more statistics.

In this recent (and fantastic!) article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of Veris Wealth Partners, she cites these statistics as it relates to the financial health of Black American families:

  • Research from the Federal Reserve Bank at St. Louis showed that between 1992 and 2016 college-educated white Americans saw their wealth increase by 96% while college-educated Black Americans saw their wealth fall by 10%.
  • The Brookings Institute found that the net worth of a typical white family in the United States is 10 times greater than the average net worth of a Black family.
  • Only 44% of Black households own their homes compared to 73.7% of white families.

We all need to care about this. Recognizing that people of a certain demographic, in this case, Black Americans, are systematically financially disadvantaged should not immediately result in the “and what about”s? Yes, we also need to care about improving the well-being of all financially disadvantaged people, but we can also focus on one demographic in terms of interventions and solutions. I simply do not believe in a zero-sum game and neither should you. However, just take a moment to notice how often, especially in today’s media, we are being sold this belief. Don’t believe it. If we want to improve the stats above and close the gap by bringing the wellbeing of all Black Americans up, one powerful strategy is to invest in Black Fund Managers, who in turn invest in Black founders, who in turn hire Black employees, which improves the economic well being of Black families, Black communities, and so on.

In-game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which an advantage that is won by one of two sides is lost by the other. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.

Sidebar: I have this habit of seeding future articles in current ones, so let me plant this seed. Philanthropy and charitable dollars, even when combined with progressive policies, will never be enough to bring low-income, low wealth people into a place where they have the conditions to flourish. We all know this, and yet we continue to act like it will. We place too much hope in philanthropy, and I believe wealthy white women do this the most. We do it by focussing the vast majority of our time and money on charitable versus non-charitable activities. I certainly did this for years, which is why now, I am shifting so much attention to aligning my investment capital with my values. It is also why I wrote this piece about Melinda French Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, and MacKenzie Scott. As I stated at the end of that newsletter, if and when women of the world align their VAST financial and investment resources with the goal of advancing gender and racial equity, things would change so fast our heads would spin. 

Cartoon drawings of Melinda French Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, and MacKenzie Scott
Original Drawing by Liza Donnelly for SheInvests

But back to the stats and my theory of change for investing in Black and brown women GPs. This is, after all, the SheINVESTS newsletter. So let’s also take a minute to look at this from an investment perspective. When it comes to my own personal investment philosophy, in addition to always thinking about the good my money can do (I am, after all, an impact-driven investor), I also put my investment dollars to work in opportunities that I believe can generate substantial returns. Not because I’m necessarily determined to add to my wealth with these investments (although if that’s one of your goals, that’s awesome too!), but for the following reasons:

  1. Impact will be created at scale when solutions work at scale. Which means that an impact-focused company, like HelloAlice, one of my investments that also happens to be tackling racial disparities in business, will be most effective when it is most successful. And the byproduct of successful businesses (for investors) is a nice return. And, P.S. HelloAlice, whose cofounder Carolyn Rodz is Latina, just raised $21 million in a Series B!
  2. Those nice returns allow me to amplify my impact. When my investments are successful, that increases the amount of capital I can wield for good, whether it’s through philanthropy or more impact investments.

So with that investment philosophy in mind, let’s get back to the topic at hand – investing in Black women. As Gayle Jennings O’Byrne, one of the fund managers I’ve recently invested in (more about Gayle and the WOCstar fund below!) often says, investing in women of color provides “the biggest arbitrage opportunity in venture investing.” Not only do companies led by diverse teams outperform when it comes to higher returns (30% higher by some estimates, in fact), but they are also best positioned to capitalize on changing trends and the growing purchasing power of both women and communities of color. The spending power of multicultural communities is already $3.9T, and is growing rapidly as multicultural populations shift toward the majority. Not to mention the fact that women control 85% of consumer spending. Investors who fail to recognize the importance of these trends are not only missing out on a massive economic opportunity, but an impact one as well.

Furthermore, investing in black women is good business for everyone. A recent reportby Goldman Sachs found that closing the earnings gap for Black women could create up to 1.7 million jobs and raise the annual GDP by $450B. Not to mention all of the other associated benefits that come from economic equity more broadly, including clean energy, better health outcomes, better access to education. Goldman felt so strongly that they created their One Million Black Women Initiative “which will commit $10 billion in direct investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic support to address the dual disproportionate gender and racial biases that Black women have faced for generations which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic”. The bottom line is that investing in Black women represents a massive opportunity to generate BOTH impact and alpha.

As I’ve mentioned in recent newsletters, over the past few months I have been working with Rose Maizner to find and vet funds led by women and women of color. So far, we have made investments in two outstanding funds: the WOCstar Fund led by Gayle and Pialy Aditya, and The 22 Fund led by Tracy Gray. We decided to invest in these funds for a myriad of reasons and one of the challenges we are trying to solve is how to share due diligence efforts to make investing in funds easier. One thing we know for sure, these two women are amazing.

A close of headshot photo of Gayle Jennings O'ByrneWith an impressive background as a tech investor, entrepreneur, and former finance executive, Gayle (pictured to the right) has more than 20 years of experience investing in and supporting the women of color tech ecosystem. During her 17 year tenure with JPMorgan, she had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the space via co-investment, as well as build up an impressive bench of skills that have served her well as an investor, including deep experience with mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, valuation, and contract negotiations.

Close up photo of Tracy GrayAnd then there’s Tracy (pictured to the left), who is an actual rocket scientist, an impact and cleantech/environmental justice investor, and a long-time champion of investing in overlooked and underestimated teams and technologies. She’s also an expert in international business and economic development policy, and, as a Senior Advisor to the Mayor, she helped to lead the City of Los Angeles’s economic recovery efforts post-Recession by creating a widely respected and replicated plan rooted in supporting manufacturing and export-oriented local businesses.

In short, Tracy and Gayle bring decades of experience to the table, and have crafted thoughtful, meaningful investment theses that reflect their unique domain expertise. They both have countless skills t

hat they have developed over the years, all of which are critical to helping founders to not just successfully scale, but to create as much impact and value as possible along the way. And, in addition to the fact that they are both incredibly qualified and experienced fund managers, they have also been leading voices in the effort to challenge and redesign the systems that have perpetuated such staggering inequality when it comes to the allocation of capital, whether it’s helping us to understand the complicity of foundations in widening the wealth gap, or underscoring the importance of investing in Black investors. As Tracy was recently told by a potential institutional investor, she hasn’t spent the past few years just fundraising. She’s spent them educating. Educating investors about the opportunity. About what is really risk and what is actually just bias or assumption. About understanding the difference between impact-washing and lip service and actually championing–and funding–the women who are paving the way towards a more equitable investment landscape.

This Thursday, June 17th, I will be hosting a LinkedIn Live with Tracy and Gayle, where we will be talking about this theory of change and the importance of investing with an intersectional gender lens. We will be discussing how catalyzing capital toward diverse fund managers creates immense social and economic impact, as well as how these opportunities have been shown to generate outstanding financial returns, often outperforming others in their asset class. I hope you will join us at 12PM ET on Thursday, as I know it will be an incredible and illuminating conversation. AND, it will be my very FIRST LinkedIn Live event! If you click through here, you can push the ‘REMIND ME’ button and you will receive a notification when the event goes live.

A promotional poster for the event featuring headshots of Jacki, Gayle, and Tracy

In the past several years, there has been an unprecedented reckoning around gender and racial justice in the United States and the world at large. And yet, even with companies and individuals paying tremendous amounts of lip service to these movements, when it comes to the world of finance, very little has changed, or in some cases, has gotten worse. But that can change, especially when it comes to investment dollars.

So I invite you to take another look at the image at the top of this article. That image should offend you. Well, actually, it should enrage you, but instead of getting angry, let’s just fix this. Because let’s be absolutely clear. We can fix this. Right now. Folks, this is not a zero-sum game world we are living in. I do not believe that, and neither should you.

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This article could be so much longer if I more fully referenced all the people and resources I want to, but below are some links to go deeper.

  • Tracy wrote a fantastic article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, that outlines clear action steps for how to support diverse fund managers.
  • GenderSmart recently published a terrific guide, full of tools and resources, for investors looking to support first-time and diverse fund managers. This is a tool you can use, and also give to your investment advisor!
  • The Gender Smart community in partnership with Wharton created Project Sage which tracks Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Private Debt with a Gender Lens. This document contains lists of funds in all these categories!!! Truly a spectacular resource for anyone looking to invest.
  • My racial equity piece (SheInvests #2) has dozens of resources related to investing with a racial lens. I pulled most of them from the GenderSmart community. Thank you!
  • A great article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of Veris Wealth Partners titled “There is a Strong Business Case for Racial Equity, But Investors Must Look Beyond the Data”
  • As always, my 650 top reports list to support Gender Lens Investing, Giving, and Action. There is not only SO MUCH data embedded in all of these studies but so many strategies as well.
  • Just released research stating that “the U.S. economy lost out on more than $507 billion in economic productivity as the attainment gap between Black and white women has widened since 1960, according to new analysis from S&P Global (NYSE: SPGI)”.

Please feel free to post other resources in the comment section.

*BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

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