A female VC cofounded a diversity initiative after being mistaken for a waitress at a conference

Silicon valley HBODiversity VC wants to puncture bro culture.

A group of UK venture capitalists has cofounded Diversity VC, an initiative to get people other than white men into the industry.

The founders of the non-profit partnership include Francesca Warner, a Downing Ventures associate who told Business Insider the lack of diversity in VC particularly stood out to her when she went to a conference and was mistaken for a waitress. At another VC event she attended, she said, all 30 speakers were white men.

Others include Anna Boffetta, an associate at Balderton Capital; Travis Winstanley, games investment director at Fuju; and Farooq Abbasi, an associate at Mosaic Ventures. Harry Briggs, a partner at BGF Ventures, is advising.

Warner told Business Insider: “We want to increase representation in an industry that’s funding the companies of the future. There’s so much investment in companies that will create loads of jobs and a tiny industry, venture capital, will have an amplified effect.”

She added: “Unconscious bias is something that affects decision making, and venture capital is all about decision making. If you’re in venture and representation is mainly male, the entrepreneurs you back will mainly be male.”

Warner added the European tech industry risked “importing” Silicon Valley tropes like “beer and pizza nights” and a “combative” style of pitching.

At this point, Diversity VC has no hard data to share on the lack of diversity in UK venture capital, but is working on a report with the BVCA, to be released in May. Warner said the figures she had seen so far were “shocking.”

Even without data, it isn’t hard to see that European VCs lack diversity, particularly at the top. A Business Insider list from 2015 showing the 19 biggest European tech funds was dominated by white men. A report from Atomico last year found more than 80% of funded startups were run by all-male teams. Diversity VC also launches as Uber and its investors are under fire for alleged institutional sexual discrimination and harassment.

Diversity VC’s goal is to persuade the bulk of European VCs to encourage diversity in their own portfolios, within the next five years. It wants to see a more diverse VC industry in the next 10.

The group is taking practical steps to try and make this happen. It will run a cross-VC internship scheme which takes on the burden of finding diverse interns for venture capital firms. It has also run student workshops with UCL, advising would-be venture capitalists who want to enter the industry. It is also launching a demo day for diverse entrepreneurs, giving VC partners unconscious bias training, and giving networking dinners for female VCs.

Warner told Business Insider there was buy-in from partners at the VCs already involved with the initiative. Accel Ventures, Index Ventures, Passion Capital and Atomico “are also keen to help out”.

She added that it was important not to “attack” incumbent partners, who might otherwise switch off from the issue. “[We] don’t make them feel victimised, but make them feel included in the solution. It’s something we want to do.”

The initiative coincides with International Women’s Day.

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