In 2018, I read a disturbing article in Bloomberg Businessweek based on a large and in-depth research initiative conducted by Carta and #Angels. They studied a simple question: who owns equity? Conclusions were drawn from data analysis of 180,000 employees in over 6,000 different companies; later the study scope expanded to 320,000 employees, ~10,000 companies, and 25,000+ founders. They recently published this update to their research, and I highly recommend reading it: https://tablestakes.com/study/.
Here are a few of the updated findings:
Cents on the dollar: Women employees own just 49 cents in equity for every dollar men own.
Team breakdown: Engineering teams have the highest average equity grant, and women represent less than 20% of engineering teams.
Distribution of wealth: Women founders hold 5% of total founder and employee equity in our study; men hold 64%.
Cents on the dollar: Women founders own just 48 cents in equity for every dollar men own.
Cents on the dollar: Women own just 11% of founder and employee equity, and hold 26 cents in equity for every dollar men own.
The widespread unfairness in our industry deeply saddened me. It made me reflect on what kind of future I wanted for my future granddaughters. So with a small posse of like-minded co-conspirators*, we got to work on developing a game plan on how Women in Big Data could create change in our communities.
Our goal is to create awareness and provide education to equip women with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully negotiate competitive and fair comp packages. On September 12, 2019, we kicked off in San Francisco with an evening panel discussion about the issues that Carta’s study reveals. SAP.io, a startup accelerator in San Francisco, hosted us in their stylish industrial space, catered by a woman-owned company featuring delicious Mediterranean treats. SAP.io isa perfect fit for Women in Big Data—their No Boundaries initiative commits 40% of funds to nurturing and funding 200+ startups founded by under-represented groups by 2023. Shuchi Rana, head of foundry at SAP.io, was a perfect panelist with her extensive experience with startups and non-profit work. Shuchi immediately recruited Emily Kramer, the former VP marketing at Carta, who drove the original research with #Angels. It was critical that we round out the panel with someone who had experience in both a large corporation and as the founder of her own company. My dear friend Kristina Klausen, co-founder and CEO of PandaTree, graciously accepted my invitation.
Panel Discussion Summary
We kicked off the discussion by defining a cap table. Emily summarized her research findings to give the audience the current state of the situation. She then explained why equity disparity matters not just to individual people as employees and founders, but how it can more significantly impact future generations, the whole industry and, increasingly, society, as technology’s role increases.
asked panelists how, based on their experiences, we got to this place—what were the factors and root causes? (though in truth I wanted to spend more time talking about what we can do about it and how can we change the status quo, rather than lament the past). Kristina and Shuchi discussed ways that the venture/investor community evaluates investments and founders. Emily and Kristina talked about how equity is used in Silicon Valley, and who determines the numbers and approves of equity packages.
Shuchi and Emily shared approaches they use to to level the playing field by reducing bias in their current leadership roles. Kristina talked about what we should we look for in an investor, and each panelist shared strategies women can use to negotiate a compensation package. They also discussed why and how compensation package discrepancies between similarly qualified employees arise: employers exploit the aversion that is prevalent in the U.S. about discussing pay, using it against negotiators. It’s hard to know what is equitable when no one will talk about what they make.
And then each panelist shared some parting words of advice:
*I’d like to express infinite gratitude to all the panelists, as well as these women who worked behind the scenes to support this initiative:
Regina Karson, marketing advisor and Women in Big Data SF Bay Area chapter lead
Shala Arshi, senior director marketing, Intel and co-founder Women in Big Data
Guppy Ahluwalia, research ops manager, Dropbox
Cynthia Kaschub, principal engineer, Intel