Y Combinator’s Sam Altman Insists “Sexism in Tech Is Real” 

July 28, 2014

12:18 pm

On Friday, Y Combinator president Sam Altman penned a blog post called “Diversity and Startups” to explain what YC is doing to promote inclusiveness and how diverse the YC portfolio actually is.

Here are some of the statistics he shared: 

  • 19.5% of the startups Y Combinator funded this year have women on the founding team (compared to about 24% of the startups that applied).
  • 10% of Y Combinator portfolio companies worth over $100 million are run by female CEOs. 
  • Y Combinator funds technical women at a higher rate than technical men, probably because the women who overcome all the barriers to starting up tend to be more talented.
  • Y Combinator itself has four full-time female partners who advise startups and run the accelerator. 
  • 39.6% of the founders in the current batch weren’t born in the United States.

Recognizing that he’s a “white guy” talking about women and minorities, Altman nonetheless decided to share his perspective. He wants people in the startup scene – men and women alike – to stop saying that sexism doesn’t exist in tech. “Sexism in tech is real,” he wrote. “I’m willing to believe it’s worse in other industries, 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.”

Although we often hear the shocking stories of misconduct or discrimination, he urges us not to forget about everyday sexism. “The thing I didn’t appreciate until I spent a lot of time talking to female founders is . . . there are frequent minor incidents . . . 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,” he wrote. 

Altman believes Y Combinator can play its part in reducing discrimination. “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),” he wrote. 

How else does Y Combinator help? They make it a practice to have women speak at their events and showcase successful women on their website. They ban threatening comments on Hacker News and encourage people to downvote comments that make anyone feel unwelcome. 

And more broadly, Altman supports initiatives that help more people of all genders, races, and nationalities learn to code. Y Combinator would like to fund nonprofits that make STEM education more accessible, and they will also be publishing online resources to help entrepreneurs starting up. 

As Gawker points out, Altman’s post about “Diversity and Tech” was almost entirely about sexism and barely mentioned racial discrimination. And we’re all curious what percentage of total YC startups have women on their founding team. So is this just a token gesture, or a real message to founders and investors? We may have to wait for the next round of stats to find out.

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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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