Sexism in tech is real. 
One of the most insidious things happening in the debate is people
claiming versions of “other industries may have problems with sexism, but our
industry doesn’t.”  Both men and women claim
this, even though it keeps getting harder to do in the face of shocks like the
Tinder texts.  We know there is a
problem, especially when it comes to starting companies, and we think YC can do
something about it.

I’m willing to believe it’s worse in other industries [1],
but it’s still very bad in our own industry. 
Debating how to fix it is important, but debating whether or not sexism actually
exists trivializes the problem in a toxic way. 
A lot of women may not experience sexism, a lot of women may experience
it but not talk about it, and a lot of men aren’t sexist.  Saying “There isn’t any sexism in tech” in
the face of a mountain of data hurts things in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Although the current debate is mostly focused on gender, and
I think women face some of the worst discrimination in tech, they are certainly
not the only group that faces discrimination.

We—the tech industry as a whole—need to fix this.  Most importantly, it’s an ethical issue.  And speaking for YC, it’s also in our best
interest.  People who are not white males
will start many of the best companies of the future, and we’d like to fund
them.  (White men will start many of the
best companies, and we’d like to fund those too.) 

We have continued to listen to the community and are trying
to understand what we can do to help. 
Realizing that it’s hard to speak with much authority here as a white
guy, I’d still like to share some current data about YC and also talk about
what we’ve been doing and will do to improve the situation.

We think YC can help drive real change, and we hope lots of
other organizations will join.

Some YC diversity
data

It’s hard to put exact numbers on this because we don’t have
a precise definition for “technical” and we don’t ask for gender on the
application form, but it appears we fund technical women that apply to YC at a slightly
higher rate than technical men that apply to YC for at least the last few years.
[2] However, a lower percentage of women than men that apply are technical.

We can get more precise number when we disregard background
and just look at the gender of applicants (based on looking at the application
videos)—19.5% of the startups we have funded this year have women on the
founding team compared to approximately 24.3% of startups that applied, based
on a random sample of a few hundred applications.

As a side note, even though it will break backwards
compatibility, we are considering changing how we look at this to the
percentage of all founders that are women instead of the percentage of companies
with a female founder.  Encouragingly,
the percentage of women applying continues to trend up year after year.

10% of our companies currently worth more than $100 million
are now run by women.  These women aren’t
just on the founding team—they’re the CEOs. 
While this number is still much smaller than we’d like, and I believe we
can do more to make it higher, it’s a big improvement from 0% a few years ago
and well above the industry average.

39.6% of the founders in our current batch were not born in
the US, representing  27 different countries.

We have four female full-time partners (and in addition to
advising startups, to a large extent they run YC).

What we’re doing 

One of the most-repeated things we’ve heard from our
founders and others is that in addition to holding focused events like the
Female Founders Conference, it’s important to make sure we have women speaking
at all of our conferences and during our batches, which we’ve been doing.  We’re also showcasing more women and people
of different ages and races on our website. 
Positive role models are wonderfully effective, and we have more and
more successful women who can inspire the next generation of founders

We will continue to ask our successful female founders to
spend some of their time telling their story and being role models.  They, and others, can also talk about the
challenges women face running startups far more authoritatively than I ever
can. 

One thing I’ve heard again and again is that the hardest challenges
are not the obvious ones.  Yes, it’s
awful to hear the horror stories of wildly inappropriate behavior from
investors to the entrepreneurs pitching them. (Unfortunately, stories like
these are not super rare, but because there’s a big cost to going public with
them, most never get told.  My hope is
that YC has enough leverage at this point to make it clear that this is
unacceptable and we will not continue to work with investors who do it.)  The thing I didn’t appreciate until I spent a
lot of time talking to female founders is that unlike the occasional terrible
incidents, there are frequent minor incidents—to stick with the fundraising example,
many women told stories of investors only talking to their male founders in the
room.  And more generally, many just
don’t feel like they belong in the startup culture.

We won’t be able to stop all bad behavior, of course, but I
do think we’ll be able to help reduce it.

Nearly all of the women I’ve spoken to feel that Hacker News
has improved a great deal—and even when jerks write nasty comments, they
usually get a lot of responses of the type we like to see.  But there is still more we can do, even
though we’ll probably never be able to rid ourselves of Internet trolls
completely.  Specifically, we’d like the
community to help by downvoting comments that make HN an unwelcoming place to
anyone.  We made a significant change to
the downvoting algorithm a few months ago. 
When we see comments that are threatening or worse, we ban the accounts
and say on the thread that we don’t tolerate the behavior.  We are also working on new guidelines for HN
comments.

We’re encouraging our startups to get HR infrastructure in
place earlier.  Many startups wait until
they have 50 or so employees before thinking about this; our sense is that many
will benefit by doing it earlier. 
Traditionally, startups have thought of HR as a drag on moving fast and
openness, but a well-running team is one of the best assets a company can ever
have.  We’re working on some projects
here but aren’t ready to share details yet.

Another thing that we’ve heard is a belief that YC prefers
companies with technical talent on the founding team.  This is true. 
Based on all the data we’ve seen, it seems like a smart thing to prefer.  We’ll make exceptions—not every company needs
complex technology to win, and not all leaders have to be expert coders.  But this is part of our DNA, and what makes
us work—it’s a challenge to have a software company without at least one
cofounder who can write software and evaluate and attract other coders.  This isn’t unique to tech; movie people
should probably run movie companies.

Even if founders don’t code day-to-day—I didn’t after the
first couple of years of my startup—a deep understanding of technology is still
very valuable for leaders of technology companies.

So we’re especially excited by efforts to make learning to
code more accessible.  Teaching people to
code is not the only thing we need to do. 
In addition to taking a long time to effect change, there are other
problems in the industry like the attrition rate of women and minorities in
tech that we need to fix.  But anyone who
wants to learn to code should be able, with lots of encouragement along the way
(this goes for any sort of engineering, of course.)  It’s an important long-term step to take.

Not everyone wants to learn to code—there are plenty of
other interesting things to learn, and plenty of other ways to contribute value
to a startup—but our sense is that a lot more people would be interested in it
if they thought software development was a viable career path.

Google’s recent work here is great, as is the work of YC
companies like Hacker School, Codecademy and MakeGamesWithUs.  YC also funds companies that help people
learn to code, and we are especially interested in funding non-profits trying
to help make STEM education more available and the tech world more inclusive.  We also try to host, judge, and help
fundraise for hackathons and other tech events designed to broaden the
community.

Teaching people who want to learn to code how to do so,
ideally at a young age, is one of the most important things the world can do
to increase the pool of potential startup founders, even though this will take
a very long time to produce change. 
Teaching people about startups is probably less important than teaching
people how to code, but still a valuable thing to do.  We’re planning to put more resources online
to help people learn how to start startups. 
More good startups will be good for everyone. 

We—the industry as a whole—still have a huge amount of work
to do, and we need a lot of organizations to be involved.  We hope what we’re doing will help.  This will be an ongoing process for YC, and
as always please keep sharing your feedback.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

[1] My mom is a doctor. 
When I was maybe 12 years old, I went with her on a Saturday to the
hospital and we went into the doctor’s lounge. 
My mom pointed out to me there was a men’s bathroom but no women’s
bathroom.  I thought (and still think) my
mom was the best doctor ever.  I remember
being incensed by this in the weeks after and the image is still very clear in
my mind.

This was the late 1990s in Missouri, which is certainly
different than the 2010s in California but not wildly so.    

[2] My guess for the explanation here is that it’s easier to
start a startup as a man than a woman, and so the talent pool is more
concentrated on the side of women who start startups.