It’s well known that tech has a diversity problem, with startups founded by women significantly underfunded compared to ones founded by men. One reason for this disparity: the ones dishing out the cash — the VCs — aren’t diverse themselves.
Ecosystem watchers say limited partners (LPs) — the people investing in VCs — have a big role in advocating for a better gender balance at funds. But a look at one of Europe’s most prolific LPs shows there’s still much to be done.
KfW Capital — a subsidiary of the KfW Development Bank and a major LP in German and European VC — has backed 85 funds to date, including Germany’s Project A and Earlybird and France’s Partech. Yet only 12.9% of general partners (GPs) at these funds are women, as of December 2022, the fund confirmed to Sifted. It counts female partners that have voting rights and/or equity shares.
The organisation says it's monitoring the diversity of its portfolio — in particular, the gender split on partner and team level — in an effort to promote female talent. And there’s early signs it could be paying off. Of the 22 VC funds in which KfW Capital invested in 2022, half had at least one female partner.
But are KfW’s efforts enough to move the needle?
The numbers say all
The share of female partners in VC funds in Europe is anecdotally pretty abysmal. In Europe, 15% of GPs at VCs — those who typically manage the firms — are women, according to a 2022 report by European Women in VC.
Sifted’s reporting was inspired by data compiled by Jessica Holzbach, founder and CEO of cryptocurrency-as-a-service startup Pile, who has been involved in the ecosystem for over six years. Holzbach did her own research into team diversity at KfW-backed funds, which include HV Capital, a German technology fund which backed her previous company Penta at Series B.
I wanted to verify my gut feeling with some numbers and show that we are facing a systemic problem that starts at the top, and could therefore also be solved from the top
“I wanted to verify my gut feeling with some numbers and show that we are facing a systemic problem that starts at the top, and could therefore also be solved from the top,” she tells Sifted.
Holzbach believes that the diversity of VC funds at partner level strongly influences the investment decisions of the fund — if you want to increase the amount of capital flowing to female-founded businesses, for example, “put more money into the hands of female VCs”, she says — which is why LPs should pay attention to it when selecting funds to invest in.
KfW as a public investment arm that deploys state money carries a particular responsibility to set a good example for other LPs and “create a strong economic force in Europe”, adds Holzbach.
Jörg Goschin, senior managing director of KfW Capital, says that KfW already takes the diversity of gender, age and expertise into account when selecting managers. As part of its due diligence, KfW Capital records the gender distribution at partner level of VC funds it’s courting, among other criteria.
From this year onwards, KfW Capital will also require each fund in its portfolio to report the diversity of their teams once a year to continue to support them in hiring diverse talent.
Goschin says that, judging from the market and KfW’s portfolio, diversity is becoming “increasingly relevant” for VC teams and female investment professionals are in high demand.
To get more women into decision-making roles at VCs, funds need to be looking at two things, he says — mobilising young talent, and providing internal development opportunities for women already working in VC to climb up the ranks.
Goschin adds that funds that show a low commitment to diversity are already at a “competitive disadvantage” — especially when it comes to fundraising from LPs and recruiting team members. “And this trend will only continue.”