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Like Like’s Like – Words of Wisdom from Women Venture Capitalists

Each year the PBWC, Professional Business Women of California, puts on an event that brings amazing women together. This year the theme of the conference was to Connect-Innovate-Inspire those coming to hear the speakers and connect with others who would take time out of their busy schedules to reflect and learn. The keynote speakers were great as were the break out groups. My favorite session was ‘Trailblazing Women Driving Innovation: Women in Venture Capital.’ This session brought together three incredibly accomplished women who shared their wisdom and experience. The session was full of interesting stories and information but I am going to focus on one particular topic that really resonated with me around the concept of ‘like’.

One of the panelists was Maha Ibrahim, General Partner, Canaan Partners. Maha is not only an extremely successful venture capitalist she also is raising a family. Having been an executive in a very demanding global job along with raising a family I understand how intense this can be, and I can also understand the joys of managing both. Maha understands what it means to juggle and make choices in every facet of her life. While there were many interesting comments I found the one she said about ‘Like likes like’ to be particularly interesting. The discussion was around the importance of being inclusive in an organization or team and also about the challenge of being inclusive to different people and styles. The panel touched on why there aren’t more women VC’s in the industry. While we can all come up with several reasons Maha made the point that ‘like likes like’ which means that when you are looking to include someone new on your team it is natural to find those that are ‘like you’ and that you ‘like’. It is a human tendency that we want instant camaraderie with others. While it always feels good to be with folks you have an instant affinity with, at the same time it can limit you to the full view outside of your own opinions and experiences.

Maha challenged the group to examine ‘how much unlikeness are the people around you?’ Take a critical look at who you have brought together on your team. Are they all similar; same life experiences, personalities, gender, culture? Or are they diverse in what they have to bring to the team? Maha told a story of how there was an opening and several people had applied. A couple of the top candidates were women. These women weren’t like the majority of the group which was men and it would have been easier for the group to choose men who were ‘like’ them. But she saw the value in bringing in diversity of these top talented women to broaden the team. Maha knew the true competitive advantage of diversity in the firm and took a leadership role in hiring those that were not ‘like’ the others.

I know that crafting a diverse team of talent will take any organization much further than bringing together people who are all alike. It is a true multiplier of creative solutions that will come to bear on the organization. It was very refreshing to hear the perspective of Maha in the venture capital world which is extremely male dominated. With leadership like Maha it helps to open the possibilities for diverse candidates, as well as, improve the creative outcomes and success of any organization.

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