"The only woman in the room"​ & how to change that by 2186

Suzy Ryoo, Venture Partner at Atom Factory, talks about her experiences as a female VC, and gives several pieces of advice for women, men and leaders to move the needle.

An all too familiar story

Two weeks ago, I joined for dinner alongside forty CEO’s, angel investors and venture capitalists in Los Angeles. It was quite a senior group of the who’s who of media and technology, with frequent flyers in from SF, NY and Chicago. Even though I could physically feel that I was getting sick, this gathering seemed like one not to miss.

I walked into a private room at a happening restaurant, where a lively bunch surrounded the open bar enjoying the first round of drinks. Some were catching up with colleagues and friends of 10 or 20 years, while others were forging new connections with fellow captains of industry. Looking around, I realized I was the only woman present.

Are you surprised? I hope not. As a woman in technology, this happens all the time. Our industry faces a stark gender imbalance. Whether in entertainment, engineering or venture capital, gender issues are woven into the fabric of a woman's professional identity.

Ladies (and gentlemen), now let’s get in formation

Last November, the World Economic Forum shared that the gender gap would not close until 2186. One year earlier, the expectation was 2133. It’s 2017, and we’ve stumbled backwards.

Selfishly for ourselves and for our children, businessmen and women must act with intention everyday to fight against the gender gap. While the Women's March is a glorious illustration of progress, marching isn't enough. Marching that day reinvigorated a movement, but it's the tiniest actions from both genders in the workplace and in the home that matter most. We'll need to work through layers of psychology and deep-rooted belief systems to re-wire our brains and hearts for the better. With passionate voices working everyday to redefine the standard for gender equality, I believe we can move the needle.

To start, here are some bold, everyday actions from multiple perspectives:

For women towards other women:

  • Go out of your way to help other women succeed, and steer clear of gossip/drama
  • Be vulnerable and willing to share fears, struggles and past experiences to make sure other women don't repeat the same mistakes
  • Guide each other through promotion and salary negotiations with the mantra “you won’t get what you don’t ask for”

For women towards men:

  • Recommend talented women to men for professional relationships as co-founders, co-investors, board members, advisors and employees
  • Discuss the gender gap openly with friends, colleagues and significant others and ask for feedback and guidance
  • Speak up when you see sexist behavior, and don't hesitate to speak to HR. Per Susan J. Fowler, take screenshots

For men towards women:

  • Compliment a woman not for her physical appearance but for her invaluable contribution to a deal or partnership
  • Listen and observe with empathy, and ask clarifying questions before acting based on assumptions or gender stereotypes
  • Encourage women to go for opportunities they may not have self-identified as perfect based on perceived lack of experience or merit

For men towards other men:

  • Think twice before using crude language when speaking about women or really anyone
  • Strive to include women in corporate gatherings and old traditions
  • Call a man out upon witnessing intolerable or questionable behavior

For executives and business leaders, regardless of gender:

  • Look through your most recent iMessages and emails to understand the subconscious makeup of your personal and professional inner circle
  • Spend time mentoring at or volunteering with nonprofits and organizations such as Girls Who CodeBlack Girls CodeIAMTHATGIRL, Defy VenturesCODE2040URBAN TxT
  • Initiate audit processes within your fund, as well as your portfolio companies and management teams to evaluate and eradicate gender-based salary gaps
  • Curate dinner tables and conference panels to be intentionally diverse and inclusive
  • Invest in executive coaching and implicit bias training for both men and women in leadership

Be Bold for Change

In closing, here’s my favorite, true story ending to the dinner party mentioned above. Throughout the first hour, the gender ratio came up in conversation multiple times, as it should. I chuckled along, but I was just honored to be included. Then, a particular older gentleman walked towards me, introduced himself and asked my name. It was Howard Morgan, the legendary investor, professor, executive and philanthropist who co-founded First Round Capital, one of the most respected seed-stage venture capital funds (with the best annual holiday video, ex. Howard as Drake @4:02).

He too acknowledged the lack of women in the room. While I introduced myself as a woman in venture capital, I observed his humility, intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm towards entrepreneurs. I felt lucky to meet him and was thankful (and surprised) that he chose to sit next to me. We continued to enjoy the meal, sharing stories about the past and thoughts about the future with our fellow table mates. It was an incredible evening. I did end up quite sick the next morning and through the next week, but it was worth it.

This International Women’s Day, I’m grateful to my colleagues, mentors and peers, whose everyday gestures and thoughtful actions move our industry towards collective impact. We still have a very long way to go until 2186, so let’s get to work!

#BeBoldForChange #IWD2017

Suzy Ryoo is Venture Partner at entertainment holding company Atom Factoryand new early-stage venture fund, Cross Culture Ventures. In addition to finding and investing in talented new entrepreneurs, she creates opportunities for founders at iconic companies (including Uber, Lyft, Dropbox, Warby Parker & Spotify), as well as fast growing startups (including Beautycon, theSkimm, Gimlet Media, Skurt, WeTransfer and Thrive Market) within the AF & CCV portfolios. As a co-founder of SMASHD Labs, Suzy and team have also spent the last six months on the “Culture and Code” tour, discovering and engaging in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Atlanta, Detroit and next Miami. Passionate about community and diversity, Suzy serves on the advisory council at the USC Marshall Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies as well as on the board of a non-profit called URBAN TxT (Teens Exploring Technology), which encourages young men of color in South LA to become catalysts of change in urban communities via technology and entrepreneurship.

Thank you to

  • Daena Reed for the moral support and finishing touches during the midnight hours in our apartment
  • Ryan Hoover for the continued encouragement to build in scalable ways and for his final editing genius
  • Caroline Fairchild for prompting me to contribute around this important day/effort, and for working so diligently to highlight diverse voices