The Only Woman In The Room

The Only Woman In The Room

When Fortune magazine released an update to their 2014 study on women in venture capital last month concluding that (big surprise) not much has changed, I was asked to write a follow up to a blog I wrote 2 years ago titled “women: a start-up’s secret weapon”. You can access this posting here – but the key takeaway is that studies have shown when you add a woman (or a few of them) to your team, the intelligence of the group rises. Shocking right?

Since the initial 2014 study – women are still grossly underrepresented in venture capital (if you can even call 4% at the senior levels representation), not to mention in STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) companies across the board. 

While the issue of women in venture capital is, again, front and center in the headlines as Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination case goes to trial, I want to take this opportunity to present another viewpoint – if you’re willing to listen.

First, I want make it absolutely crystal clear that I think it’s disgraceful that there is such poor representation of women in science and technology. That female entrepreneurs and CEOs may not be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. And that women have not yet managed to crack the upper echelons of the venture capital sector in any meaningful way.

Now – for the women that have managed to gain entry into the exclusive male-run world that is Venture Capital and have developed a skin thick enough to stick with it - listen closely.

this is a huge opportunity

YOU have an opportunity that all the men around you are killing themselves for.

YOU automatically stand out

YOU are ‘the other’ in the room.

While your male colleagues with their Ivy League crew cuts and uniform of khakis and golf shirts blend together like a herd of zebras, you can be star of the show. Regardless of who you have business meetings with, you are always remembered as Sarah from Pangaea Ventures as opposed to that guy from that firm in the bay area. You might even get meetings with investors or industry experts who won’t give your male counterparts the time of day, because well let’s face it, you’re a novelty!

I don’t want to even pretend that being ‘the other’ in a room is easy. That it doesn’t come with an extra level of scrutiny. That you don’t have to work extra hard to be taken seriously. And that it doesn’t present it’s own special set of challenges on top of all the others we already face as women. Yet, I would like to encourage all my female colleagues to really seize this opportunity. We already stand out just by showing up – so let’s make something of it!

Associate, Pangaea Ventures Ltd. Sarah is an environmental scientist and MBA who has been active in sustainability efforts for York and Dalhousie universities, as well as the City of Toronto's Environment Office.View Sarah Applebaum's profile on LinkedIn


  • Guest
    Kate Monday, 23 February 2015

    Great post Sarah!

  • Guest
    Alph Monday, 24 August 2015

    "First, I want make it absolutely crystal clear that I think it’s disgraceful that there is such poor representation of women in science and technology. That female entrepreneurs and CEOs may not be taken as seriously as their male counterparts ..."

    says who? you? this is such a sexist article. you are reinforcing the very stereotype that has pigeon holed women from rising to the top in the Science and Technology sector, as well as the venture capitalist sector. True, it may be hard for women to get into the VC sector because it's male dominated, but that's only a general misconception.
    With STEM in universities, women are very much welcomed in there, tons of Universities have grants, scholarships and bursaries allocated to encourage women in STEM degrees. If there's a lack of women in STEM courses, that's completely on the women, no one's holding them back, the same way no one's holding them back from getting into the VC game.
    Articles like these are what reinforce the common misconception that women have it hard getting into male dominated fields, thereby making it even more difficult to free the fetters of the minds of women who are actually considering pursuing STEM degrees and getting into the VC field.

  • Sarah Applebaum
    Sarah Applebaum Wednesday, 26 August 2015

    Dear Alph,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post on this very 'hot button' issue. I agree with you - this article is sexist. The fact that gender disparity in the workplace is a conversation we are still having today is disappointing, to say the least. But if I don't participate in the conversation (and I chose not to for many years), who will? I also agree with you that women are not just welcomed, but ENCOURAGED, to pursue studies and careers in STEM disciplines.

    However, here are some undisputed facts:
    - somewhere between 4-6% of all investment professionals in the VC sector are women. Other diversity stats are not well collected (there is a range because different studies come up with slightly different numbers). We also know that people overwhelmingly tend to invest in entrepreneurs that look like them. So as an industry we have a pretty strong selection bias and may be missing out some pretty fantastic opportunities.
    - Female % enrolment at the undergraduate level at UBC in computer science and software engineering was 22.1% up slightly from 19.4% 10 years ago. High school-aged girls are already self selecting out and we need to look at how our education system can make these topics relevant, interesting and engaging to this demographic.
    - According to the National Girls Collaborative Project ( from K-12 girls are taking many high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers. Now here's where it gets interesting - across the US, while women received over half of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (18.2%), engineering (19.2%), physics (19.1%), and mathematics and statistics (43.1%).

    At the end of the day - this article was meant to be an encouragement to women interested in Venture Capital and other male-dominant industries, not a deterrent. I can also only speak from my personal experience and the facts - which is what the post and this response represents. At the end of the day, as a high school student enrolled in advanced science and maths I did not apply to study engineering in university. Not because I thought it was a boys club, inaccessible, or 'too hard', but because I didn't even know it was an option.

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