A VC who just raised $30 million to invest in startups reveals one thing you should never say to a female investor

Urban Innovation FundJulie Lein (left) and Clara Brenner are cofounders and managing partners of Urban Innovation Fund.
  • Clara Brenner is an up-and-comer in Silicon Valley tech investing. Her firm, Urban Innovation Fund, just raised $US22 million ($AU30 million) to invest in startups.
  • Brenner says something that “grinds her gears” is when founders and CEO say, “Hey, girls,” in emails to her and her female cofounder.
  • While calling women “girls” may not be intended to be patronizing, according to Brenner, words matter in the workplace.

“Hey, girls.”

It’s a simple email greeting.

Clara Brenner sees those two words land in her inbox at least once a week.

She and Julie Lein cofounded a venture capital firm, called Urban Innovation Fund, that puts money into startups building the future of cities. The firm has only the two female partners, and according to Brenner, that means they get addressed as girls a lot.

Brenner and Lein are both 33 years old. Neither of them are girls.

“Don’t call women investors ‘girls.’ We get called ‘girls’ a lot, which just grinds my gears. They will be like, ‘Thanks, girls, for having us.’ Because it’s me, my cofounder Julie, and our associate, who’s also a woman,” Brenner told Business Insider.

As Bustle, a news site aimed at millennial women, once put it: “A girl is a person under the age of 18 who still lives with their parents. So when you use that term in reference to a successful woman who has worked hard to get where she is today, you’re ignoring her accomplishments and diminishing her maturity.”

Five years ago, Brenner and her cofounder Lein set out to help companies who are solving important challenges for cities raise funding. These startups are a tough sell for venture capitalists, because their products often require a lot of money to launch, and they face regulatory hurdles from local authorities who prefer the status quo.

Brenner and Lein launched an accelerator program called Tumml that works with early-stage startups on urban innovation. The duo is widening their impact with the new venture firm, Urban Innovation Fund, which closed a $US22.5 million seed-stage fund in June.

While calling women “girls” may not be intended to be patronizing, according to Brenner, words matter in the workplace, where women have historically earned less than their male peers and have fewer opportunities to advance to the top ranks.

Founders should think twice about how they address women investors in an email.

“It’s not going to kill your chances, but it’s just sort of alienating. You’re asking us for money. At least act like you take us seriously,” Brenner said.

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