Venture capital execs on changing the industry through diversity

Diversity is tied to success in business.

Research has shown companies that are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion achieve results. For instance, a market analysis from last year showed that diverse and inclusive companies earn 2.5 times more per employee and are 35% more productive.

Female executives across the investment and venture capital industries spoke on a panel at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Monday—moderated by Mallun Yen, founder and chief executive of Operator Collective, and co-chair of the Fortune MPW Summit—about what it takes to effect change in their respective sectors. 

Panelists included Hayley Boesky, executive vice chairman of global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Securities; Paige Hendrix Buckner, chief executive officer of All Raise; Seyonne Kang, partner at Stepstone Group; SC Moatti, founding managing partner of Mighty Capital; and Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, partner and chief operations office of TPG.

Below is a portion of the conversation that’s been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity. 

Mallun Yen: What is really going to move the needle? It’s not just seeding a bunch of small, emerging managers. How do you get to a point where you have bigger dollars that are deployed? 

Paige Hendrix Buckner: I have lots of opinions about it. So, one of them is helping large firms and major institutions, that have a ton of capital to write checks, have diverse women partners. You need women from a variety of backgrounds at the table with the ability to wield the power of the purse from a big fund. So many women we’ve talked to have left major funds because they weren’t able to defend or go after the thesis that they were really interested in because they didn’t have power in the firm or because the culture didn’t create an environment that they wanted to stay in.

So how do we help firms create healthy working environments that retain talent? I would say helping women who are coming up through the ranks stay in their seats and then grow in that role—but also women who are already in their seats, helping them stay in their seats during this time, especially when things are drying up a little bit and are a bit more challenging. Again, we’re not going to move the needle unless people who have power, who have the social capital, invest in big opportunities. 

Seyonne Kang: One of the challenges in this asset class is that it’s so long-lived; it takes so long to see if someone is actually a good investor. The assumption that if you have a checkbook and you back companies, that you’re going to be a good investor is just flawed completely. There are a lot of non-diverse guys who are horrific investors, but it takes seven years to figure it out. It’s just the nature of this asset class. And, so on the one hand, I take comfort in the fact that it’s directionally correct, but I think it is one of the challenges.

I understand trying to get out from under a power structure where you feel like you’re the only one, but at the same time, we’re not going to effect real change until we’re writing big checks, eight or nine figure checks, and we have more diverse folks at the table.  

SC Moatti:  I talk with a lot of women who are at some of these established firms, and what happens is they start and they’re on a roll, they’re amazing investors, and then they see that maybe they could effect change internally, and they try for a few years. Then they just do deals, or if that’s not enough for them, they leave and start their own firm. So, change from the inside is needed. 

And, does investing in diverse managers actually yield more money that goes to diverse-lead firms? In our case, I can tell you, absolutely; 44% of our portfolio companies have diverse backgrounds and amazing performance. 

But, how do we make diversity a strategic competitive advantage? What’s happening right now with AI is actually a critical moment for diversity. Most of our world, most of our economy, is going to have the haves and have nots with AI, and if you don’t think of AI as your competitive advantage, then your ability to innovate is going to rapidly decrease. But your ability to compete with AI is going to depend on your ability to bring diversity of thought to that AI. And, so I think this is really a moment for folks who advocate for diversity to say, diversity is actually not an option, it’s a must have for us to remain competitive. I think that will affect the investing world—it will affect the companies we invest in because we’re going to say, we have to build diverse teams, otherwise, they’re not going to be competitive.

Paige Hendrix Buckner: We need women to stay in their seats in major firms. And then there are so many people who’ve gone on to start funds already. And we need to help them weather the storm as well. And so we’ve talked to several people, major institutions who’ve talked about growing the LP pies, specifically with women who have wealth and helping them get into the game and into this asset class so they can become LPs. So many women have been coached into philanthropic efforts, but if we could coach them into becoming LPs, for some of these fund managers, the cool thing is that there might be a better match there.

SC Moatti: I see that change with high net worth individuals and women empowering more wealth. But I see that change at the institutional level, particularly with government funding. A lot of the conversations they’re having is, well, we could invest our dollars in emerging managers, but we’d much rather incentivize existing LPs, institutional capital, to make our dollars create even more diversity.

Hayley Boesky: You have to consider it an apprenticeship. We don’t just write money from this $2 billion pledge and say, “Here’s your check, come back later and tell us how you did.” We provide support, we provide resources. There’s another program that I’m actually very involved in; I created this partnership with Bank of America and the Tory Burch Foundation, and we provided $100 million to female entrepreneurs. A byproduct of this that we learned through the process, which is critically important to these women, is networking, having peer to peer networking. They need mentoring.

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri: Time is money. We open doors to fundraising, we coach people. As part of doing all that work, We have around 400 people in our pipeline, in different stages. What needs to be said is that while they’re at this institution, the larger institution, use your time wisely: don’t only do deals, learn how fundraising happens, ask to go to the fundraising meeting, don’t talk the first time, talk the second time, go with someone who’s actually good at fundraising. Not every white male is good at fundraising, but they’re in the meeting. 

Learn how to build a firm. But no one’s teaching any of us how to build those firms. Most firms fail, actually not because they’re bad investors. It’s people dynamics at the end of the day? So to me that has been one of my biggest takeaways of this work, that we need to mentor diverse people differently.

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