August 2, 2023

European VCs see exodus of women investors

The women are mostly at more junior investing levels such as principal and associate, although several partners have also stepped down this year

(Image: Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov)

Annalise Dragic was made partner at Sapphire Ventures in 2021, at the age of just 29, with huge fanfare — one of the youngest ever female partners of a European VC firm.

But now, Sifted understands, she will soon be leaving the firm — one of the dozens of women who have quit the VC industry in Europe since the start of this year, a worrying trend for an industry already struggling with diversity.

The women are mostly at more junior investing levels such as principal and associate, although several partners have also stepped down this year, including Dragic and Cleo Sham at Stride. Though the numbers aren’t large, they are significant, recruiters say, given the small size of the industry. 


Investors and recruiters say the general outflow of female talent is likely linked to dissatisfaction with the male-dominated industry and the fact that many funds are slowing investing amid a more difficult funding environment. 

“It feels like I’ve seen a trend. There are lots of women in VC feeling a bit frustrated; there’s a bit of a glass ceiling and the way that women’s performance is measured and compensated is different from male counterparts,” one female investor who is leaving her firm tells Sifted.

Others point out that there was a boom in VC hiring during the pandemic-induced tech craze, and the market's readjustment means several firms are now reevaluating their headcount. 

Some investors who have left tell Sifted they want to get more operational experience at startups, while a few say they’re fed up with the industry and aren't sure if they’ll return. 

Several others are leaving to start their own VC firms. Sifted has counted at least three funds being raised by female investors who recently left larger funds. 

A spokesperson for Sapphire Ventures said, regarding Dragic's departure, that she "has been invaluable to the Sapphire team, particularly in growing our presence across Europe over the past several years," adding that "despite this upcoming departure, Sapphire’s commitment to Europe remains steadfast." Dragic did not respond to Sifted's request for comment.

Hiring boom

One recruiter who works with many of Europe’s top VC firms tells Sifted: “VCs were recruiting more quickly than they usually would and in greater volumes a few years ago, so many people joined the industry without having a straight discussion about what would be expected of them and how their success would be measured.”

The person thinks that’s led to some investors losing their confidence in making deals and choosing to duck out of the industry altogether. "If ever there was a moment to lose confidence in their ability to invest, it’s now, because it won’t be clear for another year or so where the winners are."

Others think the issue is more systemic. “I think it might be tied to limited progression at VC firms. There’s only so many people who can progress to partners in a firm, given that most firms are also relatively small,” says Dama Sathianathan, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

“Additionally, I think many women in VC are frustrated by the lack of funding going to diverse entrepreneurs. Often women in VC are implicitly tasked with finding female founders to back but still have to jump through numerous hurdles to secure investment for them, if they are given any opportunity at all.”


VC isn’t for life

One female VC partner who preferred not to be named tells Sifted she’s not sure she’ll be in VC for the long haul — and it’s in a big part due to the industry’s poor gender equality. 

“​​Even though I truly love my job, there are times I doubt if I want to stay in VC for the rest of my life,” she says. 

“I have always made less money than male colleagues, no matter how many times I asked for a raise and despite quantifying my achievements. I was called 'difficult', 'too ambitious' etc whenever I pointed out I made less than average based on my education and work experience,” she adds. “Salaries aren't transparent in VC. However, knowing that you always have to fight for equal pay is discouraging.” 

The female partner tells Sifted this gender bias extends to the startups she works with. “Despite working in VC for 8+ years and making it to partner level, I still notice that people take me less seriously than white male VCs.” 

She says she’s had founders ignore her in meetings, and instead talk to her more junior male colleagues; coworkers ask her to do tasks usually done by interns; and visitors to the office assuming she’s the office manager. 

The women who’ve left

Sifted has compiled a list of women who have left European VC firms in recent months — or are leaving soon. We have reached out to the firms and the women for comment unless reported previously or already public information. Not all of the women who are leaving the industry that Sifted knows of wanted to be named in this article. 

  • Annalise Dragic, partner, Sapphire 
  • Ekaterina Gianelli, partner, Inventure
  • Natasha Jones, early-stage investor, Octopus (left to start a company)
  • Jeevan Sunner, principal, Playfair
  • Renée Godyn, early-stage investor, Octopus
  • Daphne Dovermann, principal, Atomico
  • Nicole Lai, investor, Cherry Ventures
  • Eléonore Lafonta, senior associate, Five Seasons Ventures
  • Victoria McIvor, investor, World Fund
  • Karolina Ewa Wojtas, investment manager, ICOS Capital Management
  • Cleo Sham, partner, Stride VC
  • Magdalena Olczak Nowicka, investment manager, Orlen VC
  • Cecilia Lundborg, investor, Hedosophia (left to join a startup in stealth mode)
  • Kavita Surana, principal, xista science ventures (left to go into academia)

Eleanor Warnock

Eleanor Warnock was Sifted’s deputy editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast. Find her on X and LinkedIn

Amy Lewin

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast , and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. Follow her on X and LinkedIn

Miriam Partington

Miriam Partington is a reporter at Sifted. She covers the DACH region and the future of work, and coauthors Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn