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Why aren't female founders getting a bigger piece of the pie? Theories abound

Less than 2% of venture capital funding went to all-female founding teams in 2021, marking a five-year low, new data from PitchBook shows. All-female founding teams did receive 83% more funding in 2021 in absolute dollars compared to the year prior, but that’s likely because U.S. startups overall raked in a record amount of cash last year.

Still, the rising tide did not lift all boats. The share of funding all-female founding teams earned was down for the second year in a row, according to PitchBook.

So how is it that despite the recent boom in startup funding, the venture capital industry is actually becoming an even tougher place for women to raise money?

Venture investor Del Johnson hosted a Twitter Spaces conversation last week that fostered discussion about whether and why all-female founding teams appear uniquely disadvantaged in the fundraising process -- despite that the number of women in venture capital has increased in recent years.

One theory shared by Johnson is that "male power brokers [are] more likely to select or fund the women VCs who share their own patriarchal biases, and keep out the many women who don’t share those views," he told TechCrunch in a written message. In short, women VCs are just as inclined to favor male founders as their male peers.

Serial entrepreneur Gentry Lane, who was part of the discussion and spoke with TechCrunch afterward, similarly believes that the venture industry is inherently biased against women. How else explain that while top VCs have been more accessible than ever because of Zoom and online interactions, the share of funding going to all-female founders is dropping and not rising? It's "systemic misogyny," says Lane, who is the CEO and founder of venture-backed national security software company ANOVA Intelligence.

Yet there were other theories surfaced in the Twitter Spaces conversation. VCs are more comfortable hosting events dedicated to helping underrepresented founders than actually funding them, suggested some of the participants. Instead of writing checks, investors engage in so-called virtue signaling, observed these frustrated entrepreneurs.

Lane also suggested that VCs's enduring focus on presentations and pitch decks rather than "normal, human conversation" continues to negatively impact underrepresented founders, who typically have less experience in the former categories.

Investment stage could also play a role, discussion participants noted, as much of the increase in venture funding overall in 2021 was driven by later-stage rounds, which tend to be dominated by male founders.

While speculation abounds, there was a silver lining in that PitchBook report. To wit, the PitchBook data shows that VC-backed companies with at least one female founder captured over 25% of last year’s total venture deals by count, representing 17.6% of overall deal value. Founding teams with both men and women accounted for the vast majority of those deals.

Shriya Nevatia of accelerator program On Deck cited the PitchBook data as a reason for optimism, pointing out the recent increase in the percentage of deals with at least one female founder in a tweet yesterday. Wrote Nevatia: "This is sooo much closer to 50% -- up from 11.8% in 2008 -- that's quite fast!!"

She then tweeted: "We ARE making progress, keep it up yall."