White, male startup companies get funding for being white and male.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

When top technology venture capitalist John Doerr decides which startup company to invest in, he consciously and deliberately chooses white males over women and racial minorities:

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at Bezos, or [Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo Inc. co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. So when I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest.”

However, Sharon Vosmek believes that this is not an “overt” bias, but rather a “hidden” one. It is just how venture capitals work:

Sharon Vosmek, CEO of venture accelerator Astia doesn’t think that VCs have an overt bias against women. Instead, it’s the way the venture-capital industry operates.  Vosmek says that these “systematic or hidden biases” include:

  1. that VCs hold clear stereotypes of successful CEOs (they call it pattern recognition, but in other industries they call it profiling or stereotyping.)  John Doerr publicly stated that his most successful investments – and the no-brainer pattern for future investments – were in founders who were white, male, under 30, nerds, with no social life who dropped out of Harvard or Stanford (2009 NVCA conference).

In other industries—and if uttered by someone without a university education—people would call it “sexism”, “racism”, and “ageism”, but not in the technology venture-capital industry. Doerr sees a racial, gender, age “pattern” in which startups are successful, but such “pattern recognition” is misleading when startups led by women, racial minorities, and people over thirty may be unsuccessful because they are discriminated against and denied funding. The pattern may be systemic bias, instead of the inherent superiority of white men (under thirty).

Statistics show that women-led high-tech startups have lower failure rates than those led by men, and that venture-backed companies run by a woman had higher annual revenues than the norm but used less committed capital. However, counterintuitive, abstract statistics are less convincing than intuitive, concrete anecdotes for white men who believe in the unique cleverness and hard-working character of white men.

8 thoughts on “White, male startup companies get funding for being white and male.

  1. dillene

    I can’t make any coherent comment about the appalling mindset described here so I will merely ask: does anyone remember the old TV mystery series “Remington Steele” – where the real detective was a woman and Pierce Brosnan was her front? It would be tempting to run that kind of a scam on a venture capitalist (i.e., have a non-white, non-male, or non-young programmer hire a white, male, socially maladjusted Ivy Leagure dropout to front for hir).

    Think of the headlines that would ensue if it were someday revealed that Google (or its future equivalent) was actually the brainchild of two retired black schoolteachers!

  2. Jon

    Are we surprised? Hiring managers do it all the time, but not just in age, gender, and race. The practice is called “cloning”, where you favor candidates with resume’s and backgrounds similar to yourself.

    Bias and prejudice is not unique to white men.

    1. Mary

      Are we surprised?

      No. The point of this blog is not really “surprise! there’s discrimination in tech!” We know: I at least document mostly in order to help do something about it.

    2. Trix

      “Bias and prejudice is not unique to white men.”

      Yes, but who tends to have the most power to be able to enforce their “cloning” bias? I think you’ll find that is *most often* white men.

    3. dillene

      “Bias and prejudice is not unique to white men.”

      Let us, by all means, seek to stamp out prejudice wherever it may be found. Nevertheless I think you’ll find that throwing around millions and billions of dollars in startup funding to people who meet your own biased preferences is rather unique to white men. Therein lies the dilemma.

  3. Jeff Dickey

    It starts early, too; I remember when startup guys stopped raving about my “potential” and instead called me “too experienced; overqualified; not suitable for the role.” It was as though a light switch had been flipped in June, 1990. I was 28 years old and had been in software development for ten years, with several notable successes up to that point.

    That plus the H1-B hypersonic train wreck should have been a wake-up call. But here I am, twenty years on, still trying to keep head above water doing what I love to do and am rather good at… and with thirty years in the craft, going back to school and starting from the bottom doing something else holds as much appeal as a six-days-old glass of milk in the tropics.

  4. Will

    “However, counterintuitive, abstract statistics are less convincing than intuitive, concrete anecdotes for white men who believe in the unique cleverness and hard-working character of white men.”

    I believe I hear the sound of a nail being hit directly on the head.

    1. Jeff Dickey

      Yep. Reminds me of the famous American politician quote “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” And people wonder why we’re in the mess we’re in.

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