The Women Upstarts of Silicon Valley with Julian Guthrie and M. J. Elmore

While women make up 50+ percent of the population, they are still a minority at most tech companies—and even more so at venture capital firms, where most have no women partners. Julian Guthrie, author of Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime, and Stanford GSB alumna M. J. Elmore, a partner at IVP venture capital and a subject of the book, join Stanford Legal co-hosts Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman to discuss VC culture and the challenges M. J. and other women had to overcome to achieve success.

This episode originally aired on SiriusXM on November 9, 2019.

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The Women Upstarts of Silicon Valley 1

The Women Upstarts of Silicon Valley

With less than 8 percent of check-writing venture capitalists as women, the world of venture capital in Silicon Valley has been male-dominated since it first developed. The women who attempted to enter this world in the early years faced incredible challenges to overcome to even step foot in this world.

After researching the earliest women to overcome these challenges, Julian Guthrie wrote Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime. Released earlier this year, Guthrie recounts the stories of four female trailblazers in the world of venture capital.

“The women, their stories are very different,” Guthrie says. “You get to know about their family lives and their hopes and dreams and the challenges and the successes. I wanted to tell the story of these four young women arriving in Silicon Valley with shared dreams of really making it in tech. They didn’t know necessarily that it was, by all accounts, a very inhospitable place for women. There are these commonalities that they have but yet a uniqueness to each. I feel like collectively, it’s a really fascinating tapestry.”

A female pioneer of venture capital, Stanford GSB alumna M. J. Elmore, is one of the protagonists of Alpha Girls. Knowing she wanted to enter the world of Silicon Valley, Elmore utilized her technical background from her earlier experience at Intel. Elmore says, “I was setting up some of my own interviews, and I decided to go up and interview with Reid Dennis at Institutional Venture Partners. My friend said, ‘I don’t know why you would ever want to interview with Reid Dennis. He’d never hire a woman.’ I said, ‘Well it’ll be good practice anyway, and who knows?’ So I did go up and interviewed with him and we had a great time, and when I went to leave he said, ‘Well there’s a group coming in, and I don’t like to meet with teams by myself.’ So I stayed and we met with a group of entrepreneurs. Before I left, I had a job.”

Joining co-hosts Professors Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman on Stanford Legal, Guthrie and Elmore discuss the role and challenges that women in venture capital face. Elmore recounts one of the first board meetings she ever attended, saying, “I walked in the room and every man in the room said how cute I looked. I thought, well, that’s not really what I’m going for here. I’m really looking to find the best deals and make the best investment.”

These challenges being one of the few females in a male-dominated world are echoed by the other female venture capital trailblazers in Alpha Girls. Being asked to go get coffee by their male counterparts was a common theme for the women. A consequence of some gender bias, some gender stereotype, most of the women tended to laugh this off. Others tended toward clever remarks, like Sandy Kurtzig, the first woman to take a tech company public. “She was in a meeting, and she was the CEO of the company. One of the clients, the male clients, asked her if she would go get coffee, and everybody looked mortified because he didn’t know who she was,” Guthrie says. “She said, ‘Sure. I’ll get you coffee, and if we do this deal, I’ll bake you cookies.’”

After prompted by Professor Bankman, Elmore shares her advice for women trying to enter male-dominated fields. “If you enter a field that’s male dominated, if you’re the only woman in the room, you do have to think about a strategy for how you’re going to survive,” Elmore says. “Understand the power structure as it exists, not what you wish it was. Take that as a given. Then go and let your performance speak for itself and build on that performance.”

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