One Reason Y Combinator Doesn’t Have More Women Founders

October 23, 2014

9:00 am

In March, Y Combinator president Sam Altman asked the Twittersphere what YC could do to encourage more women to start companies.

Last week, Women.com CEO and Y Combinator grad Susan Johnson indirectly provided an answer with her Medium post, “Y Combinator + Being a Mom.”

Her story, in a nutshell: she was called in for an in-person interview with Y Combinator when her second daughter was 3 months old, and she ended up getting in. Since she couldn’t move her whole family to Mountain View, she decided to commute every week from Los Angeles and stay in an Airbnb from Monday-Friday.

But the part that struck me most about the article is the fact that she almost didn’t apply for Y Combinator

I didn’t think I was a candidate for this world-class accelerator. I didn’t think I looked like a ‘YC founder,’” she writes, under a lead image of YC cofounder Paul Graham surrounded by a gaggle of young men.

In other words, the predominantly male startup culture may cause women to exclude themselves, to think they don’t have a shot, to feel like outsiders.

“For all of those people who are afraid they don’t look like a YC startup founder  –  looks don’t matter. Grit. Perseverance. Passion. Those matter,” writes Johnson.

So what Y Combinator and other startup organizations could do to encourage and invite women applicants (among other things) is to update their image. 500 Startups is doing that in a different domain by vocally looking for and talking up their international founders. To attract more diversity, highlight and give a voice to the diversity you already have.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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