This blog post was originally published by Fortune Magazine.
During a recent television interview, I was asked by a reporter, “Which industry is more sexist, Wall Street or Silicon Valley?”
That question is of great interest and relevance to me. I’ve spent over a decade as a female partner of one of the largest venture capital firms. I was an entrepreneur at a start-up here in Silicon Valley before that. I'm a working mom with a seven-month-old son and a seven-year-old daughter. A first-generation Chinese-American, I “immigrated” to the Valley as a young engineer and business school student.
But before all this, I have been the only non-white, non-native person in my small-town high school and the only woman in the engineering lab, the GM auto plant and the executive boardroom. And, like many women, I've had my abilities questioned, my looks appraised, my senses assaulted (a business lunch at a topless bar…but don’t get me started) and my biological clock monitored.
While I cannot speak first-hand to the Wall Street culture, I can tell you that the Valley is, first and foremost, a meritocracy of talent and performance. The culture rewards results, bold new ideas and risk-taking, no matter the source. Companies that my firm and I have invested in have been founded by native-born as well as first- and second-generation immigrants–men and women of Chinese, Irish, Syrian, Indian, and Israeli descent and pretty much everything in between. Men and women “immigrate” here because they see the Valley as a special place with unique conditions that increase the chances of a venture becoming the next Cisco (CSCO), Google (GOOG) or Facebook. Like other VC firms here, we seek to back the best and brightest people who are creating disruptive and exciting companies. Period.
But, I’m not suggesting that the Valley is a gender-blind utopia. Last summer, as part of Maria Shriver’s A Woman’s Nation, my firm hosted a roundtable for 21 women in Silicon Valley. The consensus? Overt sexism is not largely at play here–but there was a noticeable division between women whose careers span 15+ years and women newer to the workforce. We “older gals” were adamant that if you want to make career and family work in sync, it's critical to commit to a job that you're crazy about. (I know that sounds trite, but it speaks to why you keep coming back to work. See Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Fortune Guest Post, “Don’t leave before you leave.")
Beyond that, work-life synchronicity requires that you work hard, become a unique asset to your company, and negotiate from there. That’s great advice for any working woman–or man.
That said, the real need in Silicon Valley isn't just for more women, but for more diversity of all kinds–in our boardrooms, not just our lunchrooms. So, where do we start? I have three recommendations.
Capitalizing on workplace diversity is not a short-term exercise. But if there's one thing Silicon Valley is really good at, it’s patiently investing to achieve a long-term goal. This is one of those opportunities.
Theresia Gouw Ranzetta is a managing partner with venture capital firm Accel Partners, where she focuses on Internet and software investments. She was featured in "The New Valley Girls," a story about the supremely connected rising-star women of Silicon Valley, in Fortune in 2008.
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Over the last month, more than 1000 members of The Women’s Conference community responded to The Great February Giveaway question “Who would you most like to have over for brunch?” The Women’s Conference team was struck by the breadth of creativity, wisdom and humor of the responses. The intended guests ranged from “myself when I was 20 years younger,” to religious and historical figures, favorite authors, beloved mothers, fathers and grandparents both living and deceased, artists and celebrities. The responses came from women across generations. Who knew brunch could be so interesting and informative? Choosing our finalist and six honorable mentions was no easy task.
Below is the winning response. We selected it because her story demonstrates courage, confidence and commitment to creating positive change in the world. Her response is joined by those we selected for honorable mentions. We invite you to read them. We think you’ll find them as inspiring as we do.
“TMS”, 42 years old
I would invite my birth mother to brunch. My mother and father lost their lives trying to protect my brother, my baby sister, and myself during a bombing raid on our village in Vietnam. My parents and baby sister were killed, and I wound up in an orphanage. I was adopted by an incredible family in America. I have lived, been educated, worked, married, and now have two amazing children of my own. I run a domestic violence shelter agency, and every day, I see amazing stories of survival and hope. I would like to tell my birth mother that I MADE IT, and that the sacrifice of her life made mine possible. I am who I am because she and my father loved me.
Jackie Greer, 26 years old
Maya Angelo, Mother Teresa, Maria Shriver, Oprah…these remarkable women cannot answer the questions I have as an insecure, hesitant 26-year-old, who is constantly worried and unsure of which direction her life is going to take. I would instead invite my future self to brunch. My self twenty years from now, successful in her career, happily married, and surrounded by loving family and friends, would reassure apprehensive 26-year-old me that a positive attitude and hard work will inevitably lead to success in all facets of my life. My older self will warn me of hardships I will face and tell me everything’s going to be OK. She will let me know which career path I chose, and she will tell me that I have made a difference in the world. She will urge me to embrace the fear of the unknown because I will persevere.
Realistically though, none of us can invite our future selves to describe to us how our lives will unfold over eggs Benedict and cantaloupe. I would alternately invite Jillian Michaels to brunch, who would give me this advice and reassurance, as well as a lecture for eating eggs Benedict instead of healthy oatmeal.
Brandi Tocci, 23 years old
I would love the opportunity to sit down with my older sister Lauren, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. On April 20, 1999, Eric and Dylan invaded my high school and opened fire against their peers, killing 13 people during the worst school shooting in history. I’m fortunate Lauren can call herself a survivor, but some of our friends and classmates weren’t as lucky. I would ask them all the questions my sister has wanted answers to for years. If they could see the pain they caused not only the Columbine High School students, but their friends, family and community, why would they want to hurt people? Why would they open fire at my sister and friends? The community has ‘researched answers’ and questioned their parents, but no one would ever know the reasons behind their rage unless they were asked directly. So, ‘brunch’ might turn into shots of tequila with this intense, yet civilized conversation, but I’d still like to know their side of the story. Women exemplify power, and I’d like to hear their side, while telling them that they may have hurt my family, myself and thousands others, but they didn’t take the power from the school like they hoped. We will always be Rebels and “WE ARE COLUMBINE”…
Betsy, 52 years old
I think I will jump into fantasyland to answer this question. I have a 16-year-old beautiful daughter named Rachael. There are 36 years between us, and I think for my fantasy brunch date I would want to be with my daughter 36 years in the future, putting her at the age I am today -- 52. In my fantasy we are both the same age. I would love to hear about all the cool things she has seen and done with her life during those years. To be the same age and learn from her how her life at 52 is different from my life at 52. What technology is she using-how has the world changed-what dreams has she accomplished- how have I impacted her life as a woman-mother-wife? I know the future rests with our children. My daughter has a strong sense of herself and how important family and friends are. I would love to see what she has done with her life as I am now versus being 88 years old when she is 52. That would be a wonderful fantasy brunch.
Mia Ogletree, 45 years old
The first day the question was posted, I read each one, at the time 132 by early morning. Oh, what brilliant people that others wanted to have brunch with, I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea of narrowing my choices. I put the task aside, as I had to go to my son's kindergarten class for my weekly volunteering. It was during this next two hours, that I found the one person that I wanted to have brunch with, a five-year-old boy name "C."
This child had problems all year. He was always in trouble for one thing or the next. But this week, due to a substitute teacher, I took him aside to work with him. In the hours I spent with him, I found out he had never met his father. He longed for a home to call his own. He drew the same perfect house in every picture he has ever been asked to draw. His mother was "away" for a while and he was terrified. This is a person I want to have brunch with on a Sunday afternoon. This child, though not filled with experience, years of service or exciting adventures in politics or world peace, is the perfect person for me to engage with over a meal. I would love to talk to him about his dreams, his hopes and his fears. It would be my pleasure and joy to be with him and show him that the world is on his side and is rooting for him to succeed. I want him to enjoy an afternoon filled with great food, conversation and a feeling of safety and love. All children should have this opportunity.
Alissa Grinenko, 28 years old
The group that I would like to have over for brunch would be my online buddy group (we call ourselves The K Krew). We're a group of women that met online over two years ago, with common interests and have continued to form an online friendship as we continue to make our journeys. There are eight of us, all from different parts of the US, each with our own experiences that continue to share our daily ups and downs with each other.
One of the members is part of the Love 146 task group, a group devoted to ending child sex slavery and exploitation. In the eight of us, we have teachers, students, mentors, professionals, mothers, soon-to-be mothers, and those working towards being a mother, each making a difference in her own community. We all met through a common interest, but I feel so blessed to be among such a group of women.
Though we have chatted, online only, I have not met any of these women. Originally we didn't know each other's real name. Now that we know each other's actual names, two of us went to the same elementary school (a few years apart). We go from talking daily, to monthly, to weekly, supporting each other in moments of joy and moments of hardship. It would be a wonderful experience to meet these women that have journeyed with me these past two years. It would be an amazing brunch, and amazing to finally connect in person. Though we're "average" women, not famous for anything, its an amazing group where we have all taken steps in our own lives to make this world, and the future of this world, a better place.
Lydia Leeds, 55 years old
I would invite every hungry person on the planet, feed them and ask them how I could help – no one should be hungry but a lot of people are. I’d want to invite every lonely person on the planet and wrap them in warmth and kindness and ask them how I could help. I’d also invite Anne Frank because she deserves to be there, Nelson Mandela because of his smile and the sparkle in his eyes, Wanda Sykes because she's the funniest woman alive, my mother because she'd love it and she'd kill me if I didn't, my maternal grandmother because she was a pioneer, my paternal grandmother because I never met her and my two brilliant, beautiful nieces because they are the very best of our future. I’d ask Anne and Nelson to solve world hunger, I’d ask my mother if they were right - my grandmothers to cook and coddle, I’d ask Wanda to make the world laugh. I’d ask my nieces to never let anyone forget. And I’d ask myself how much more can we do right now to help our friends, neighbors, strangers and each other…