Sep 1, 2016 · 4 minutes

Anyone feel like punching some more holes in that whole “great meritocracy of Silicon Valley” lie?

You remember the one that goes like this: We’d love to hire female partners, but we just can’t lower our standards to do so.

That’s actually what top VC Mike Moritz of Sequoia said last year. In this case, he was roundly criticized-- even by his own partners. But just a few years ago, many senior people in the Valley publicly agreed with the old “pipeline problem” myth. Privately, many likely still do.

That may be one reason the number of female GPs has declined. According to a new survey by Women.VC, as of June 30, there were 253 female active VCs nationwide, 15% below the five-year high of 296 in 2014. And bear in mind, many women count as “VCs” who may even have some check writing power but spend most their time in operations or marketing for firms. So I have a hunch that number is actually lower. It’s similar to those stats that show some 18% of startups with women on their “senior management teams” are venture recipients, while the percentage of venture money going to actual female CEOs is just 3%.

That we have fewer female VCs than we did few years ago, we knew.

What the survey turned up that we didn’t know was this: Those female GPs outperformed the industry. The survey found the overall performance of women VCs is 3.78x a net return multiple, greater than the industry average.

Now sure, most VCs aspire to earn results higher than that, ideally some 10x returns. So that doesn’t necessarily mean female investors are the best in the industry. Further, you could argue that women VCs have to be so much better than average in order to break through the conscious or unconscious bias they face. So perhaps your average female VC should stack up better than your average male VC.

Consider another surprising study that just came out by Accenture that showed women on corporate boards were twice as likely to have an experience in tech.

From Fortune’s write up:

Accenture looked at women’s representation on the boards of more than 500 Forbes Global 2000 companies in 39 countries across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Overall, 16% of the women on these companies boards have digital experience, vs. 9% of men.

Breaking down those numbers by country, the trend toward women being more likely to have a tech background held true for seven of the ten countries in the study. In the U.S., 26% of female board members have tech experience, vs. 17% of men. In the U.K. and Australia, the difference is even more drastic: 18% vs. 9% and 14% vs. 4%, respectively.

...This study helps to debunk the commonly held belief that the paucity of female directors—women held one in every five board seats at S&P 500 companies last year—is due to a lack of qualified women.”

It certainly isn’t because more women are in tech, it’s because the women who break through have a higher bar of accomplishments they have to clear.

Put another way: Are female board members and VCs that much better, that much more qualified than men, or is there just a shit load of male deadweight that gets more benefit of the doubt on the way in and keeping them from being shown the way out? Likely, both.

But even given those potential societal caveats skewing the study’s results, it’s impressive that women VCs as a group have done so well, because frequently they are “ghettoed” into areas that don’t produce the highest returns. The Women.VC survey notes that a full 20% of the women investors they found were in corporate VC groups-- considered overpaying “dumb money” by a lot of people in the industry. Many more are in healthcare and lifesciences, where IPOs and unicorns are rare. Even when it comes to consumer Internet, a lot of women get siloed into ecommerce.

Said Mike Maples in a recent interview with Pando about women getting “stuck” founding ecommerce companies:

We need more people like Diane Green.We need a female entrepreneur to have a $50 billion exit, and that isn’t going to happen in ecommerce. It’s going to happen with something really technical. It’s a shame Diane sold that early because it would have been worth tens of billions and that would have been really huge. 

The same logic should hold true for women investing in ecommerce. This year it hasn’t.

The survey notes two women as rolemodels for female VCs: Aileen Lee-- who coined the term “unicorn” and invested in Dollar Shave Club, and Kirsten Green who invested in both and Dollar Shave Club. Sure, they invested heavily in ecommerce. But they certainly haven’t suffered from it. That could be -- in part-- because they made the contrarian bet not to flee the category once imploded.

It’s worth noting that both Lee and Green had this level of success after starting their own firms-- whether by choice or because they had to. Green, in particular, was so divorced from the traditional Sand Hill Road boys club that she started her investing career by painstakingly cobbling together special purpose vehicles to invest in single companies she believed in.

A former retail analyst who didn’t know how to code, Green never would have shown up in Moritz’s “pipeline.” Clearly, that was the Sand Hill boys club’s loss.