What is Essential? Part 2

In May 2020, near the start of the COVID19 global pandemic, I wrote a post called “What is Essential?” It was a reflection on what goods and services the government leading the province in which live considered to be essential. Supermarkets and access to food were essential. No surprise there. So were beer and liquor stores. Schools were closed. Did that mean access to education was not essential? There were a few other salacious businesses that re-opened quite early in pandemic times and were considered essential.

It’s January 2021 and where I live, we’re in another phase of serious COVID19-instigated business closures and stay-at-home protocols, but it’s even more confusing this time. Whether or not an activity or service is essential has been left open to interpretation. By not being clear, the risk has been shifted to individuals and business owners to make their case as to whether their business activity or service is essential.

A couple of interesting impacts arise from this.

Essential is on a spectrum

We can’t label shopping broadly as essential. There is a difference between buying milk or fresh vegetables as being essential compared to picking up a package of organic baby arugula. I wrote about access to essential resources in my book, Integrated Investing, in the context of surviving, thriving and be happy. In the midst of a global pandemic, when we talk about essential, first and foremost we’re really talking about essential resources to survive. Many of us are so used to having access to essential resources to survive that we take it for granted and access to essential resources to thrive and be happy start to feel like flotation devices.

Privilege and advantage affect one’s view on essential

As a business owner, if you risk being fined for carrying on non-essential activity and if you are well-capitalized to weather this latest storm, you may very well decide to slow down and pause your business activities. Why take the risk if you don’t have to? However, if you need the revenue, you may deem your business activities and services as essential and carrying on operating. As I write this, I recall reading research on risk-taking behaviour alongside abundance or scarcity of resources. All to say, lack of clear guidance and certainty around whether you are an essential business and the risk of being fined or not, leads to decision-making in uncertainty and risk-taking.

Follow Their Lead

At the start of 2020, I was asked for my insights about how to improve an initiative that sought to invest in and develop emerging venture capital fund managers, and to create a more diverse community of fund managers. Needless to say, 2020 has not been a great year for my writing habit. On account of a global pandemic, it’s been a bit more challenging to find the time and energy to write, but I finally wrote down my thoughts and proposals for anyone thinking about supporting first-time and non-incumbent fund managers.

But first, why even care about venture capital fund managers? It seems like every other hour someone is starting a new fund. Venture capital hot takes on Twitter range from myopic to inspiring. Do we really need more venture capital fund managers?

With my new book, Share Equity, I’ve been examining how we can have more diverse representation of people in senior leadership levels of the venture capital industry, share practical tools and resources, and shine the spotlight on role models – particularly women who have successfully founded their own firms and raised their own funds. Only 6.5% of the fastest growing firms as identified by Inc. magazine since 1996 were funded by venture capital, according to Kauffman Foundation. Personal savings, bank loans, and credit cards fund the vast majority of fast-growing firms. Marco Da Rin, Thomas Hellmann, and Manju Puri examined several research reports on venture capital and found, across many studies, less than 1% of startups raise money from venture capital.

Economic Activity and Innovation Attributable to Venture Capital-Backed Firms

Between 1980 and 2010, 35% of all US initial public offerings were by firms that had been funded by venture capital. And despite being the funding source for only 1% of startups, venture capital-backed firms accounted for 5.3% to 7.3% of employment (based on a study in 2011.) Venture capitalists tend to select more innovative companies to invest in and venture capital investors play a significant role in the commercialization of innovative technologies. Venture capitalists fund future public companies, support future employers, and help launch innovative technologies of the future.

Let me recap: although venture capital is the source of funding for only 6.5% of fast-growing firms and less than 1% overall for startups, the impacts of venture capital-backed businesses are more wide-spread. Venture capital-backed companies develop technologies that are implemented by non-VC-backed businesses and that are adopted by individuals. The jobs of the future are generated by VC-backed businesses or potentially eliminated or saved by them. Venture capital-backed companies disproportionately contribute to greater job creation, innovation, and companies of the future (including ones that eventually IPO). It is this outsized impact on the economy, the future, and our societies that has me really interested in ensuring a diverse group of people have decision-making authority in venture capital.

What Fund Investors Can Do Differently

As I was thinking about and writing Share Equity, I got really hung up on the things that were difference-makers for the fund managers who successfully started their firms and raised their funds. Privilege and advantage was a resonant theme, as was the importance of people and partners, in the form of networks, community, anchor investors, and mentors. You probably wouldn’t be surprised that being purpose-driven and persistence were difference-makers. You might be surprised that previous experience wasn’t really cited as a factor, but dig deeper and you realize all the fund managers I interviewed did have previous experience and exposure to the technology and innovation ecosystem in some way. A recurring theme was the opportunity for disruption at the fund investor level.

Beyond the scope of my exploration for the Share Equity book, I was Head of Investment Strategy at a non-profit, stewarding a $300M investment portfolio to fund grant-making to women’s rights organizations. There, I explored a strategy to invest with a gender-lens in private equity and venture capital funds.

Based on my conversation with fund managers, asset allocators, and my own experience on both sides of the fund raising table, here are my ideas for fund investors to really effect change and support a diverse, next generation of venture capital investors.

  1. Recognize their potential and performance. Recognize that investing in women, emerging, and a more diverse community of managers helps you achieve your financial goals and that diversity is more sustainable in the long run. Research from Cambridge Associates indicates that “new and developing fund managers consistently rank as some of the best performers”.
  2. Follow their lead. Embrace new models and fresh perspectives from emerging managers. They are innovating in their industry. Don’t try to make them conform to old models or you’ll risk losing the innovation and creativity that you valued in them in the first place.
  3. Reflect on what’s stopping you. You’ve seen the data, you’ve read the research yet you still find a reason not to invest in emerging managers. Think about the emotion behind that decision. Is it fear? Change is unsettling, creates instability and insecurity, but in the long run not changing introduces risk and obsolescence. Feel the fear and do it anyways.
  4. Carve out an allocation. Maybe you’re not ready to make a big shift in your portfolio and asset allocation strategy. Take a small step, make some room to allocate capital to emerging managers, and build the muscle memory.
  5. Integrate these principles and concepts throughout your portfolio and strategies. Don’t create a silo of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Figure out how to integrate a mindset for diversity throughout your entire investment business.
  6. Embrace innovative fund managers’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. Raising a fund requires a lot of capital and resources. Some managers may need to continue generating income from other means to bootstrap and support the build period of their firm and fund. To interrupt the reinforcing loop of privilege and unearned advantage in venture capital, celebrate the entrepreneurialism of fund managers to be resourceful to make ends meet during the fund raising period and early years of the firm when the economics of a first fund may be lean. Be open to changing your terms, structures, and constraints, otherwise you risk only the privileged and financially advantaged being able to contribute in the venture capital industry and you miss out on entrepreneurial, capable, new perspectives.
  7. Support your champions. There are already champions of diversity, equity, inclusion and emerging managers within institutions. Support the champions internal to your organization that are already supporting innovation in the investment industry.
  8. Add value. Make connections for your emerging managers. Support them with mentorship and connect them to peers. Listen more, embrace empathetic leadership, and help them grow as leaders by removing barriers and creating the conditions for them to be creative and innovative.

What Counts

I mention Antonio Damasio’s research often. Take Eliott for example, one of Damasio’s neurology patients. Eliott had sustained damaged to the part of his brain that controlled decisions. He was able to apply logic in analyzing choices he faced, but his ability to experience emotions meant he couldn’t make decisions. It ruined his life. When I recount this story some people listen with fascination. On the other hand, many others resist, particularly investors, and say their investment decisions are entirely rational. Most people understand how emotions show up in buying decisions, but never in investment decisions. Based on Damasio’s research, emotions drive every decision and that there is data to prove it.

If we really want meaningful impact measurement, we need to capture information from analysis, emotion, body, and intuition and integrate them. Damasio’s research shows us that emotions drive decisions. Data with context can trigger an emotional response and therefore can drive a decision.

We are at risk of measuring things that do not meaningfully influence decisions and change behaviour for greater mutual benefit. More importantly, we are at risk of losing sight of why we’re doing the things we’re doing in the first place. If we end up with vanity metrics and we rely on them to make decisions, we’re at risk of making decisions that create more problems than we’re trying to solve. I have ambitions to write yet another book about more wholistic decision-making, to equip people to integrate analysis, emotion, body, and intuition (the first book being Integrated Investing). If we can achieve that, I believe we’ll make more compassionate decisions and be able to help more people. Helping people is the greatest impact possible and I was thinking about exploring how to assess whether we are actually helping people, how to decide where our investment will have the greatest impact, and how to communicate those results. In this day and age, when we are pushing our planet and its resources to their limits, optimizing how we allocate resources is a critical challenge worth solving.

Last year, I wrote a short introduction and outline for What Counts: Impact Measurement with Head, Heart, Body, and Soul. It’s really a decision-making book disguised as an impact measurement book. Let me know what you think.

This Book Won’t Write Itself

Around this time last year, I started writing my second book, Share Equity: Women and the Fight for Financial Power in Venture Capital. I had a reasonable plan to have a rough first draft of my ideas and insights written down by International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020 and to spend the rest of the year interviewing fund managers and investors, organizing the themes, and synthesizing my findings.

At the start of 2020, I interviewed Check Warner, co-founder and General Partner at Ada Ventures, after reading her riveting post 12 months ago about her fundraising experience, candidly drawing attention to how privilege and unearned advantage played a part.

Check was excited and passionate about the potential for her new firm to positively impact people who historically had been under-represented in the start-up ecosystem or even excluded from leading venture capital-backed businesses. But she equally felt angry when unearned entitlement and unearned advantage went ignored and unnoticed.

“I’m sharply aware that many other more talented people won’t have that opportunity [to launch a venture fund], purely by virtue of where they were born and into what circumstances,” she wrote.

I have some hypotheses about what it takes to raise a venture fund – particularly for women and non-incumbents in the industry. My reasonable writing plans started to look like ambitious plans by March 2020. Despite the global pandemic and the complexities it has brought, I’ve so far interviewed five investors (with plans to interview a couple more), two asset allocators, and the preeminent researcher of women in alternative investments. It’s by no means an academic study. I’m simply trying to capture the experiences and inspiring stories of a few women who beat the odds.

I sought to better understand what it takes to raise a fund. Within my network and extended community I hear about people aspiring to become venture capital investors, to invest in innovation and to connect founders with the resources and people they need to succeed. They are trying to do so in an economically and socially sustainable way, some with a focus on investing in underestimated, overlooked, and underrepresented entrepreneurs like themselves. They wondered how others before them overcame rejection and failure. They were looking for impactful stories about potential role models, about when others almost gave up, but pushed through and got to where they are. I wanted to share a story taking an audacious idea as far as I could, facing some of the very challenges, biases, and barriers that I was fighting to dismantle for founders, and about making the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make as a leader to abandon the pursuit of raising a new fund.

I see a lot of programs out there that are delivering skills for emerging managers – I participated in a VC program when I was far down my path – and part of me is wondering if such programs are enough. If someone ticked all the boxes, learned all the skills, gained experienced and built a track record, is that enough? Or what are the other difference-makers that have enabled non-incumbents, women in particular, to start and raise their funds?

I intended to look for patterns in the stories shared by my interviews and to synthesize the insights before sharing. I’ve already noted some of the themes, but it may come as no surprise that thinking and writing is taking longer than usual this year. In an effort to urge this book into reality, here are some highlights and excerpts from the interviews and my writing so far.

In our interview, Check noted three key difference-makers: mentors, inherent self-belief, and early exposure to the technology industry and ecosystem. I’ll say more about this in the book, but here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

BFW: There’s great self-awareness there because at any point in starting Ada, raising this fund, did you ever feel like, “I can’t do this, the barriers are too significant”? At any point, to your point, in terms of that self-belief, did you ever feel like this is really hard?

CW: Definitely, I had really bad moments. Even despite the fact that I was a lot more fortunate than a lot of people, financially I’m still under massive financial strain. It’s just so mind-blowingly expensive and that adds a layer to any kind of stress, that makes it so much harder. So I think, yeah, definitely had those moments.

But I think what’s different for me, than it would be for a lot of other people, is that I always had a safety net. I always had things that I could do as a backup if it hadn’t worked out. I think that’s what’s missing for a lot of other people. Like this is their only shot. And so they often don’t take it because they can’t afford to take that risk.

BFW: How do you feel about that, in the context of some of the entrepreneurial messaging around, “you have to be all in”? In fact I’ve seen on a number of occasions, people’s words for 2020, some pretty influential people, have been “all in”. How do you feel about that?

CW: Yes incredibly frustrating and so mind-boggling that people don’t realize. Actually I don’t want to be too judgemental about other people and where they’re at on their journey. Everyone’s on a journey and people get there at different times. I was very lucky to work with a group called Fearless Futures which is a great organization and social enterprise that does training and they talk about privilege and social justice. They taught me a lot about concepts like risk and having global scale ambitions. That’s not relevant to people who’ve never been out 20 miles outside where they were born or it’s certainly much harder to think like that. Whereas if you’re someone who’s globe-trotted from when you are a child and you were taken on all these foreign holidays and the idea of going to San Francisco or having global ambitions is totally achievable. There’s a complete chasm of understanding of that for most of the venture capital world.


Here’s to a more reasonable and less ambitious 2021, which may still include the completion of the manuscript for Share Equity (I can’t help myself to keep dreaming).

Purpose, Goals and Measures of Success

We’re in the process of mid-year performance reviews here at the Equality Fund. I want to use this as an opportunity to write about purpose, measuring success and applying Goodhart’s Law to profitability as a measure of success of businesses. But first, let me share an experience I had with my daughter and the seemingly never-ending bag of Hallowe’en candies.

I dread Hallowe’en every year. More accurately, I dread the haul of chocolates, candies and treats and the incessant requests for candy every day from my ever persistent daughter. But as the years have gone on, she’s started to learn and practice the concept of waiting and savouring. She sometimes complains about her stomach hurting after eating too much candy. She’s talked about having enough candy to last until December. Today she announced she would have one candy each day. I encouraged her to write it down on the whiteboard to help her stick to her strategy.

Now, mind you, having one candy each day IS NOT the goal. The purpose here is for my daughter to eat healthy things (one could argue that the even bigger purpose is to be healthy and happy). The goals are to not have stomach aches from eating too much candy and to stretch her candy haul a few weeks longer. The strategy for achieving these goals is to allocate one candy each day. The way to measure whether she’s been successful is to track how many candies she’s had each day and compare it to the target in her strategy. She should also track how she’s feeling and how long the candy lasts.

I noticed a parallel with a process I employed with respect to the performance reviews in my workplace. I made an effort to distinguish amongst purpose, goals, tasks, and measures of success. Although I recently read a different perspective whereby goals were described as the measurable tasks that could help lead you and your strategy to success, place too much emphasis on the tasks themselves as goals and you risk losing sight of your purpose and what the big goals are. I made a point of describing the goals in words – often in a qualitative way to evoke a feeling of achievement, followed by “Success will be measured by:” The goals then have an effect of propelling us forward and helping us envisage ourselves and our team in the future. Goals lead, measures of success or tasks keep us on track.

I should also note that incentives – like extrinsic or monetary rewards – suffice for repeatable, mechanical goals, but are horrible for motivating people when it comes to creative, innovative work. Daniel Pink wrote in his book, Drive, about purpose, autonomy, and mastery as being the primary things that motivate people where critical thinking is needed. You start to see how purpose, goals, and measures of success complement and connect with each other to inspire action and accomplishment.

The traditional measures of success of business – profitability, I’m looking at you – have become goals. People think the purpose of business is to maximize profits for its owners or stakeholders. Even in the impact investing space, purpose and profit have become inextricably linked. Although the Business Roundtable has attempted to broaden the commitments to all business stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, the community, as well as shareholders. Businesses are a way to connect people to the essential resources they need to survive, thrive, and be happy. Profit is simply a statement of the excess of resources and energy generated over resources and energy consumed. Our accounting systems are a proxy for the allocation of resources. But it’s become so abstracted that people believe profit or accumulating assets are the goals, in and of themselves.

When profit becomes the goal, we lose sight of the purpose. We start to generate profit at whatever cost. We start to not pay people properly. We start to extract natural resources and push the cost of regenerating those resources onto someone else. We start to coerce people, with threats and violence, into handing over their land, crops, or time and labour. Profit is no longer sufficient for measuring success. In fact profit can obfuscate failures, especially when not everything – particularly costs – are not counted.

This is why being profitable is not the goal. It is only a measure of how resources are allocated. Goodhart’s Law says “When a measure becomes a target, it is no longer a good measure.” Now that profit has become a target, it is no longer a good measure of resource allocation.

The big purpose of business is really about the well-being, health and happiness of people. To achieve that, our goal is to ensure that everyone has access to the essential resources they need, a concept which I wrote about in my book, Integrated Investing. Success is measured by the extent to which resources generated exceed resources consumed. We should be mindful about how that success is realized. Is it really success if resources are extracted or distributed unequally or unfairly? Reinvigorated by a recent conversation on Twitter, we should consider tracking a measure for energy and how long resources will last. Ultimately, well-being, health and happiness would help us keep our eye on our big purpose. I see the parallels with curbing my daughter’s stomach aches and helping her savour her candies a little bit longer, and ultimately helping her be healthy and happy.

We need to remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place. We can recalibrate our goals, be clear about how success will be measured, and be mindful not to let the measure become the goal itself.

The Great Reset

This op-ed was originally published on June 28, 2020 in The Toronto Star.

It has become apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately and negatively impacts women. Among workers in the core working age demographic of 25 to 54 years, women represented 70 per cent of all job losses in March in Canada.

Most schools and childcare facilities remain closed, placing an even greater burden on working mothers. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, a greater proportion of the job losses experienced are being recovered among men compared with women.

What needs to change to help women in the workforce?

This is not the great recession, it’s the great reset. It’s an opportunity to do business differently and value women’s contributions, focusing on these three areas:

  • Accommodate women in the workforce

COVID-19 has forced flexible work arrangements into the spotlight. Author Sylvia Ann Hewlett has written about the need for flexible work schedules, flexible career paths and removing the stigma of flexible work arrangements as strategies for retaining and advancing women in the workforce.

Now would be the time to advance these objectives and nurture women’s ambitions.

We must also reduce the gender pay and wealth gap and give women the opportunity to earn their full value.

  • Promote women in leadership

Women are celebrated at the forefront of the global response to COVID-19 as leaders of nations and as public health officials.

They are leading with facts and empathy. This combination is needed for decisiveness because it’s not one or the other that is the foundation for good decision-making, but analysis and emotion working together.

Unusual allies have emerged. Tom Peters, business management leader and author, wished for a future with more women in leadership. On Twitter, he mused about his “top 2 post-coronavirus dreams: (1) Never again a promotion of anyone to management who does not have a truckload of empathy (high EQ) [and] a demonstrated “people first” track record. (2) More more more women in senior leadership roles ASAP.”

  • Give women access to capital

Women are at risk of facing even greater barriers raising capital for their ventures or funds. Investors may focus their efforts and capital on entrepreneurs and fund managers with longer track records and with whom they have established relationships.

At the Equality Fund, we see an opportunity for investors to double down on gender-lens investing and take informed risks on female entrepreneurs and fund managers. It’s this forward-thinking lens, rather than hanging onto old ways of the past that are clearly broken, that will be rewarded in the future.

The traditional approach to business, entrepreneurship and innovation has cracked under pressure and left many people behind. It is my hope that we’ll see the emergence of new ways of doing business that ensure everyone along the whole spectrum of entrepreneurship can access the capital they need to survive and thrive.

Let’s embrace the great reset and make businesses work for women.

Canada’s competitiveness rests on diversity and equality

This op-ed was originally published on June 12, 2019 in The Toronto Star.

The Canadian government wants Canada to be more competitive. The World Economic Forum ranks Canada 12th among 140 countries in overall competitiveness.

Factors considered in the WEF’s ranking include exports and trade, attractiveness for investment, innovation, productivity, and tax reform. Competitiveness is typically measured by factors affecting economic growth. However, we mustn’t forget the role of having a social safety net, having a more equal society, and creating conditions for diversity, inclusion, and belonging in making a country an attractive place to have the life, lifestyle, and livelihood that people want.

For Canada to be more competitive, policy-makers need to do two things:

1. Make it possible for family life to be more compatible with professional life and

2. Reduce wealth inequality.

Before we explore that further, let’s take a look at the economics of growth. Thomas Piketty, a French economist and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, breaks down growth into two components: population growth and per capital output growth.

“According to the best available estimates, global output grew at an average annual rate of 1.6 per cent between 1700 and 2012, 0.8 per cent of which reflects population growth, while another 0.8 per cent came from growth in output per [capita].”

In many developed economies, populations are aging and women are having fewer children, later in life. The counterpoint to this is the rise in women starting businesses and perhaps the recognition to enable more women to join the workforce.

In Canada’s budget announcement in 2018, it was noted, “Having more women in the workforce has driven economic growth, boosted family incomes, and helped families join the middle class. Yet there are still too many missed opportunities caused by gender gaps in a number of areas, including education and career options, full participation in the economy, and leadership.”

“RBC Economics estimates that if men and women participated equally in the workforce, Canada’s GDP could be boosted by as much as 4 per cent, and could partially offset the expected effects of an aging population.” (Government of Canada).

The Wharton Social Impact Institute conducted a scan of private equity and venture capital firms globally that invest with a gender lens. These are firms that are allocating capital to women entrepreneurs, women-led businesses, businesses who are creating products and services for women or have other gender diversity considerations in their investment strategy. Their scan captured 87 firms of which only 3 are Canadian — Pique Ventures is one of them (Wharton University of Pennsylvania).

If Canada wants to be more competitive, to grow, and have more women contributing to the economy, we need more than just job creation. Productivity growth and population growth are linked and so we need products, services, systems, and policy decisions that dedicate resources to making growing families compatible with growing businesses, such as funding education, care, and enabling men and women to share in family responsibilities.

In addition to getting income into the hands of women, we need to get more capital to women — we need more businesses and investors that make decisions with a gender lens.

Gender balance and equality isn’t the only factor that will get us on a path toward economic prosperity for all. We need to get income and capital into the hands of the least wealthy.

Piketty says, “the hoarding of wealth — increases in wealth, when the level of wealth is significant — does not lead to corresponding increases in spending and does not lead to a proportionate increase in demand for products and services.”

“The poor catch up with the rich to the extent that they achieve the same level of technological know-how, skill, and education, not by becoming the property of the wealthy,” says Piketty.

If we could allocate resources — and wealth — optimally across all people, including the least wealthy, this increases demand for products and services and increases productivity.

At the core of Pique Ventures’ impact lens is the conviction that improving access to essential resources helps people survive, thrive, and be happy. The sole impact we should be measuring is well-being. And so, to achieve more impact, we need to get better at how resources are allocated and by resources, I mean physical resources as well as knowledge, information, and interpersonal relationships.

In considering economic prosperity for all, we must also think about Canada’s social safety net, equality, diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and the ease in building relationships. Economic prosperity, family life, and equality are interconnected.

The Trouble with Gender-Blind Investing

This op-ed was originally published on May 17, 2019 in Next Billion.

As an impact investor interested in gender equity, I was glad to see a recent Harvard Business Review article on gender equality and investing by Karen Firestone, President and CEO of Aureus Asset Management. In response to the article, I shared a call to action on LinkedIn that encouraged LPs (limited partners, such as high-net worth individuals, family offices, foundations and endowments) to invest in women-managed funds. also urged organizations to incubate these funds, and journalists to write about them.

Shortly thereafter, another impact investor responded to my call to action, saying that women shouldn’t just invest in women. Women should invest everywhere, he said.

That might sound like good advice. But in reality, it’s not that simple.

A Broad Base of Exclusion

I started Pique Ventures because I observed that women were being left out of key decision-making roles in impact investing. Pique Ventures invests in a diverse community of impact-focused entrepreneurs in British Columbia, Canada, and we’re growing to invest across Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. One thing we’ve seen in our work is that it’s impossible to call for gender-blind investment without taking the broader context into account: The fact is, women are underrepresented as startup investors, as startup CEOs and amongst VC-backed businesses. The statistics back this up.

In her HBR article, Karen Firestone noted that women manage only between 1% and 3.5% of capital in the investment business (including investment management, mutual, hedge, private equity and venture capital funds). Those figures are drawn from a report by Bella Private Markets, released in January 2019. Firestone also noted that this low percentage of assets under management wasn’t due to poor performance: Bella Private Markets found that women-managed funds performed just as well as funds managed by their male counterparts. Earlier research on women in alternative investments by Meredith Jones, while at Rothstein Kass (now part of KPMG) found that women-managed hedge funds out-performed their counterparts with predominantly male leadership. However, the research also found that women managed smaller funds, and on average took longer to raise their funds.

The lack of women managing capital is only the tip of the iceberg. There is also a lack of diverse perspectives more broadly than just along gender lines – both in influencing investment and capital allocation decisions, and in defining and measuring success. This lack of diversity amongst investors means many problems go unsolved, or in some cases, more problems are created – for instance, because issues such as safety, sexual harassment and violence, poor working conditions, and job precariousness get overlooked. Only 2.2% of venture capital goes to women-led ventures, and around 13% of partners at U.S. venture capital firms are women.

A Glimpse of What Could Be

The proportion of women in leadership positions in venture capital has not improved in the past 5 years, but impact investing offers a glimpse of what could be. In 2013, using the ImpactAssets 50 as a representative sample, I found that women made up 34% of the leadership teams of impact investing organizations. And Tim Freundlich, CEO of ImpactAssets noted in a recent Forbes article that, “as of year-end 2018, 39% of companies funded by ImpactAssets were led by women founders or CEOs,” and that “asset managers in the impact investing space have significantly higher percentages of women.”

It is predicted that $30 trillion in wealth will change ownership in the next three to four decades, and women are anticipated to inherit a large proportion of this from their spouses and parents. But this wealth transfer won’t realize its potential for impact unless there is diversity among the asset managers and CEOs stewarding that capital. This diversity won’t happen by accident – and it won’t happen if the existing community of women investors fails to lead the way through their own investment decisions. There needs to be an intentional and conscious shift of capital stewardship into the hands of a diverse community of women to rebalance where the control and power of money lie.

Making the Case for Action

Fortunately, a number of investors and advocates are working to draw attention to these gender disparities – and to direct capital to help change them. For example, Carta is a technology company that helps private companies, public companies and investors manage their cap tables, valuations, investments and equity plans. #ANGELS is an investment collective founded by six women who are current and former executives at Twitter. The two organizations issued a report titled #TheGapTable in September of last year, analyzing data on the cap tables ( the documents that record who has ownership in a startup) of more than 6,000 companies with a combined total of nearly $45 billion in equity value. Starting with founders and employees, they found that women make up 33% of the combined founder and employee workforce of startups – but they hold just 9% of the equity value, with the other 91% belonging to men. They also found that women face barriers accessing equity and building capital in their own startups. They are being excluded from the opportunity to invest in – and to be on the cap table of – most startup companies.

Carta and #ANGELS intend to extend their research to include angel investors (just 22% of U.S. angel investors and 16.7% of Canadian angel group members are women). They also plan to include board members, advisors and other entities, and VCs (in the US only 11% of check-writing VCs are women, and in Canada, only 15.2% of partners in VC firms are women). Their work shines an important light on these gender imbalances – and brings us back full circle to the representation of women in managing capital. Family offices and foundations should respond by helping get more women on the cap tables of companies by investing in emerging funds managed by women – a goal they can achieve while still benefiting from strong investment returns.

Addressing these disparities will take time and concerted effort from stakeholders throughout the industry. But in the meantime, Pique Ventures is working to challenge these industry statistics in our own work. In our first impact venture fund, 32 out of 41 investors are women, representing 75% of the fund’s capital. We invested with our impact lens in seven women-founded early-stage technology ventures, and six continue to have female CEOs. We aim to continue to serve a diverse community of investors, including women, and we will continue to focus on impact-oriented, women-led technology ventures as we build our second impact venture fund.

Our work has shown us that it’s not enough to simply say that women should invest everywhere. In fact, we’d turn that formulation around: Everyone should invest in women, and women should be given the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the economy – in the workforce, as CEOs, on boards, as investors and as capital managers. Our economy and society need diversity to thrive: It’s up to all of us to deliver it, and it’s up to women investors to take the lead.

“Sorry, but you can’t come in.”

This op-ed was originally published on April 23, 2019 in Business Insider.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.”

I had decided to venture out to a networking event to reconnect with colleagues, to talk to them about the second venture fund I was raising, and to show off my 8-week old baby. The event staff turned me away because I had my baby with me. Perhaps it was so unusual to see a woman with a baby at a networking event that no one thought to challenge that decision nor the potential biases behind it.

This incident was minor in comparison to some of the other stories I’ve heard  —  such as an investor telling someone to prioritize their baby over their startup or, on the flipside, investors changing their minds about investing because they were worried that a CEO would prioritize their baby over the startup and abandon their company. The response — “You can’t come in” — feels fitting in an industry where family and business don’t mix well in some people’s minds.

But that may be changing. Increasingly I’m hearing stories about people persisting in raising capital while raising children. They are doing so by seeking out investors who are demonstrably values-aligned and who understand that it isn’t work-life balance at issue, but instead building businesses and families at the same time is simply life.

Before I had children, I was a fierce advocate for people who were building startups and families at the same time, especially women. I had heard stories about women being turned down for investment because they had young children. Few women dared to raise capital while pregnant. I wanted to make sure parents  —  especially mothers or expectant mothers  —  were not discriminated against in the venture ecosystem. I wanted to ensure they had access to the resources they needed to start, build, and grow.

Of all US venture capital investment in 2018, only 2.2% goes to female-founded startups, as reported by Fortune. The field of venture-backed businesses continues to be an unforgiving environment for women entrepreneurs, especially when upwards of 75% of caregivers are women, according to the Institute on Aging.

I was pregnant with my first child while raising my first fund at Pique Ventures, the impact investment firm that I founded. I delayed telling investors that I was pregnant because I felt uncertain and anxious about how they would react. It turned out to be no cause for concern. Many of my investors had either “been there and done that,” or they felt so highly aligned with the values and investment strategy of Pique Ventures that my pregnancy was a non-issue. Pregnant with my second child, I felt more prepared and confident enough to present the investment opportunity of Pique’s second fund to investors in person and by video-conference well into my third trimester.

The following are some of the themes I heard across different conversations I had with a number of fund managers and founders when I asked them about their experiences of raising capital while raising a family.

1. Speak your truth

Eric Bahn is co-founder and General Partner of Hustle Fund, a venture capital fund investing in fast-executing teams at the pre-seed and seed stages, and is part of a new breed of emerging venture capital managers that is challenging the status quo. Eric welcomed a second child into his family shortly after Hustle Fund launched. He shared his perspectives on Twitter, stating that kids are terrible for careers, but having children was also the best decision he’s ever made and as a result, he feels richer. Eric told me that his posts attracted a lot of passionate responses, revealing that mixing family and business is still contentious to some. Others still, like myself, saw it as bold leadership as rarely do I hear of people – let alone VCs  — share their experiences of raising a fund (or starting a venture) while raising a family with such candor.

2. While raising, seek aligned investors

Investors that asked Elizabeth Yin, Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner, how she was going to manage having a baby and managing a fund at the same time, yet didn’t ask Eric that same question, essentially signaled to Hustle Fund that such investors were unlikely a fit for them.

Lally Rementilla, Pique investor and president of Quantius, a private debt provider focused on technology ventures backed by strong intellectual property, is another example of a fund manager who integrates family and business. She said, “conversations [with Quantius investors] often include family.” She tells them how proud she is of her daughters and takes pride in talking about her work with her daughters.

3. Build strong support systems and structures

Juggling business and family is possible only with solid support systems personally and professionally. What helps is, “Having a really good network and that starts at home. If there is strain at home, then there is strain at work,” said Jessica Regan. She is the CEO of FoodMesh, a technology company that reduces food waste by getting surplus food into the hands of people who need it (and a Pique portfolio company).

When Jessica had a baby two years into building FoodMesh, she found that having a supportive and understanding team was critical. Jessica had raised a seed round from external investors and knew she had a responsibility to her shareholders as well as her staff. “I took it very seriously and didn’t want to let others down,” she told me. “Having a baby made me perform even better. I’m more focused and am extremely structured with my time.”

4. Prioritize and get ready for a mind shift

A key lesson for Jessica was to moderate her expectation and shift her world to accommodate what’s important. Elizabeth echoed this. She too had to prioritize, and called it a “mind shift.” If it meant abandoning cloth diapers and not breastfeeding beyond the fourth trimester, that was fine with her. It meant she could define what success of running Hustle Fund and raising her children looked like.

5. Take a long view

In the impact investing field, we’re often focused on long-term sustainability. At Pique Ventures, I talk about investing in companies that are built to last. Eric is thinking long-term in venture capital as well. “We think about growing old together with our [investors],” he said. Likewise, Lally notes that building a firm and raising a family are both marathons, not sprints.

More and more leaders are demonstrating that it is possible and perfectly acceptable to start a fund or business and raise capital while raising a family. But it’s not just up to parents to drive this change. The people and organizations around them and actors within the venture ecosystem also need to shift. They need to recognize that the participation of parents in the venture community is an important contribution to how problems get solved. At Pique, we believe impact investing is about taking care of the village and ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to survive, thrive, and be happy. And as Lally reminds me, it certainly does take a village to raise capital and a family.

What is Essential?

I’m going to try something different with my writing. As I write this, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Like many other people, I’m feeling more tired than usual, my sleep is disrupted, and I’m doing whatever I can to keep anxiety at bay. One of my go-to things is writing. But I’m really short on time. I don’t have the time to synthesize the information I’m reading and receiving. I haven’t had the time to reflect and contemplate ideas thoughtfully. I certainly don’t have the time to edit and format my posts well. So I end up not writing.

So I’ve decided to try to write, think a bit, but not over-think and to try to get the ideas down in one sitting. I’m going to aim for 30 minutes of writing each day. Let’s see how that goes. This is my first post, written with this approach, so please forgive me if it’s not very polished and doesn’t flow well. I’m working on getting better and faster at doing that with the limited time and brain capacity on a given day.

I’ve been thinking about what is essential. For years, I’ve been referring to Access to Essential Resources. It was a concept I developed as a way to think about what startups we needed. In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, only essential businesses were permitted to continue operating. It included things one might expect such as supermarkets, banks, and businesses providing transportation and telecommunications. But it also included liquor stores. And more notably for working parents, schools and organizations providing childcare were mandated to close.

Undoubtedly, with a global health crisis, the first thing we have to attend to is ensuring people are kept safe and reducing the risk of exposure to this virus. It isn’t just about individual health, but rather the stability and capacity of the healthcare system. When I wrote my book, Integrated Investing, I wrote about six categories of Essential Resources and one of them is Essential Resources for Managing Change. And that’s the category under which healthcare falls. Healthcare is essential for managing changes in our health and also changes in our environment, ecosystems, and community that impact our ability to do other things – like interact in person with others.

Isolating at home has challenging impacts as well. People are social creatures. We need connection. For some, connecting digitally or virtually has sufficed. But for the most part, not being able to connect in person has been hard and disorienting at times. Resources for Connection – such as restaurants, cafes, parks and playgrounds – are also essential. To leave them off the list of essential businesses and activities is a misnomer.

It’s May 2020, and we realize that wearing a face mask when interacting with others helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus. I wear one whenever I go out and expect to cross paths with other people. Aside from my breathing into the mask causing my glasses to fog up, it also feels awkward because people can’t see my expression. I feel hidden, erased, expressionless. Which made me think of another Essential Resource I wrote about – Essential Resources for Expression. But until we know more about the virus and have a vaccine, face masks are going to be commonplace.

The need for Essential Resources for Connection and Expression got me thinking. Here is a thing that I didn’t cover in my book – sometimes Essential Resources are enablers for other Essential Resources and sometimes we have to prioritize. Essential Resources for Managing Change takes precedence here.

In the meantime, let’s not forget that we also need Essential Resources for Connection and Expression. We just need to find alternatives and make sure that they are accessible to all.