Invest like an Olympian
Canadian women dominated this year’s Olympic Games. At every turn, female and female-identifying athletes broke new ground for women in sport. Team Canada was represented by 371 athletes and 131 coaches at the Tokyo Olympics, the country’s largest Games contingent in years, and over half of them were women.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Nearly 30 years ago, less than 40% of Team Canada was made up of women and female-identifying athletes. We’ve come a long way since then, but there is still a long way to go in ensuring equal, diverse, and inclusive representation in sport.
This also holds for women in Canadian venture capital. A 2019 report found that approximately 15% of all partners at Canadian venture firms are women. Though the number is up more than a full percentage point since this time last year, that same report found the number of dollars invested in Canada in 2018 by funds led by women had decreased.
The writing is on the wall: though Canadian venture capital has made strides, there is still a big gap to close to ensure that women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts in the industry.
Many tend to view the argument for more women in venture capital through the lens of moralism or simply box-checking to get good press. But if we take a page from the book of women Olympians, we can see a real business case emerge.
Take Canadian soccer star, Christine Sinclair. Sinclair is the world’s all-time leader for international goals scored for men or women. That’s right — she has scored more international goals than Ronaldo and Messi.
You might be surprised to learn this, but the fact is that women have a profile problem in the world of sport. With minuscule broadcast coverage and unequal pay compared to male athletes, fans don’t often get to see the strides women make on the field.
We can also see this awareness problem in the world of venture capital. As a traditionally male-dominated sector, investors are often more comfortable hiring and backing those similar to themselves, with women and people from diverse backgrounds struggling to access capital, mentorship, and industry networks.
This is where we see the business case for diversity come into play. In the worlds of sport and venture capital, the numbers speak for themselves: women perform.
Out of the seven gold medals Canada won in this year’s Olympics, five were won by women. The Canadian women’s soccer team delivered a gold medal victory after beating out Sweden. After winning bronze in the women’s 4×100 medley relay, Penny Oleksiak became the most decorated Canadian Olympian — ever.
Canadian women athletes have the numbers, and so do women in venture capital. One study indicates that when more women are placed in leadership roles at venture firms, a more diverse set of businesses receive funding. Another study found that 48% of female-managed funds outperformed all-male peer funds.
Venture capital is what puts startups on the trajectory of growth. This industry needs people that think differently. Women across the country are proving their ability to make better deals and help homegrown founders build strong companies with real-world impact.
If we want Canada to compete on the global stage, we need a critical mass of diverse voices, skills, and experiences. Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski of the Canadian women’s eight rowing team, which also won gold, put it best:
“Everybody brought a different element to the boat and that is what made us successful. We are all really different, and that’s what makes us powerful.”
To bring diverse voices into the fold, Canada must level the playing field for women in venture capital.
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