What Barbara Walters’ Amazing Career Can Teach Us About Women in VC



Jeff Bussgang’s recent article about the lack of women in VC struck a nerve with me as this topic has always been near and dear to my heart so I want to share the story of Barbara Walters and show what it can reveal about the lack of women in VC.

Back in 1976, Barbara Walters became the first female co-anchor of the evening news for a major network (ABC). It was a big risk because sexism was still prevalent in the 70’s. Despite that, the show began well and ratings went up.

Regardless, Barbara’s co-anchor Harry Reasoner was well known for his dislike of Barbara. In her memoir, she spoke of how she was invisible to the predominantly male crew but read this passage which described a time when she tried to ingratiate herself into the group:

“The only way I could hold my own was with the New York Yankees. I was a big Yankee fan. Still am. In desperation I would come into the studio and make bets on the Yankees with Harry or the guys on the crew, and very often I won. For five minutes or so I could be one of the guys.”

But the show started coming apart. The toxic chemistry between them had brought ratings down. The only saving grace was Barbara’s 4 one hour specials that she was required to do as part of her contract and they would prove to be a turning point in her career.

The very first one hour special was with the newly elected president, Jimmy Carter. During the interview, Barbara asked him an embarrassing question about the sleeping arrangement he had with his wife. Although widely criticized for asking such a personal question, Barbara said this of the incident:

“I cringe now at this exchange with President-Elect and Mrs. Carter, but it made them very human. It also painted an accurate picture of their close relationship, which would become apparent to everyone over the next four years.”

But the one hour special was a smash success and The Barbara Walters specials would go on to become one of the most popular shows for the next 30 years.

A year later in 1977, the new president of ABC News said of Barbara, “She’s a great asset who has been mishandled.”

Mishandled? How did the worlds greatest female news journalist get mishandled?

What stopped Barbara from succeeding in journalism was her desire to become one of the boys – even going so far as to making sexist comments against herself. Barbara was trying too hard to play the game that the men had created.

But when Barbara accidentally asked the US president what his sleeping arrangements were, she unknowingly created her own game with its own rules. People failed to realize that her naivete wasn’t a weakness, but a strength.

Barbara’s new style of “personality journalism” was a success because she put a woman’s touch on the news. She asked the questions that no man would. Her style of journalism was the complete opposite of the masculine, hard nosed, monotone news reporting of her day and it made all the difference.

When it comes to venture capital, women don’t know how to create their own rules and play to their strengths. But if they could, the whole landscape would be different.

There are too few female VCs not because of sexism but because Silicon Valley has mishandled them – just like how ABC News mishandled Barbara Walters.

They couldn’t leverage her talents because they didn’t know how to. They didn’t realize that the type of journalism that men did was radically different from the type of journalism Barbara was capable of doing.

And Silicon Valley has been making that same mistake.

What we need are more Barbara Walters in venture capital and Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures perfectly demonstrates how that can happen.

A recent Pando article said this of Kirsten:

“The interesting thing about Green’s hit streak — and the fact that it emerged out of nowhere — is that it’s precisely her differences that have enabled it. Because she’s not in the good ol’ boy Sand Hill Club, it’s hard for her to move in sync with them. She doesn’t have to resist the trend to move in lockstep, because she probably couldn’t march to that beat if she tried.”

Kirsten Green doesn’t have an MBA from a fancy university. Shes never even worked at a tech company before. But here she is running her own firm and taking advantage of the fact that she is a woman. And like Barbara, she created her own rules.

The Pando article goes on to say this about Kirsten:

“Green couldn’t hide her femininity if she tried. She is striking, vivacious, and inherently nurturing. She wants to hear your problems and give advice. She feels awkward silences, wanting you to feel comfortable around her. She has that knack of seeming cool and together and yet flawed and discombobulated all at once”

Those are things that male VC’s just can’t do. If we want more women in VC, the men have to embrace the qualities inherent in women and realize that putting a woman’s touch on venture capital can be a game changer.

And ladies, you have to start seeing yourself as value adding assets! Stop thinking like a man and start appreciating the wonderful minds and unique talents that you possess because your femininity is a GOOD THING.

Reprinted by permission

Image credit: CC by Mark Sardella

About the author: Jay Deng

Jay Deng is an angel investor and venture capitalist. He invested in two companies whose exits topped $800 million. He is also the CEO and founder of Diva For Less.

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