This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be.
Photo credit: Sam Sarraf
"Don't think outside of the box - act as if there is no box. To all the women out there, we have already smashed all the ceilings. We don't need to sneak in and prove ourselves. All we need to do now is bring more women on board with us."
Renata George is an entrepreneur - turned angel investor - turned VC. She has a media background and employs her journalist curiosity and judgment in venture investing, as some other venture capitalists, like Michael Moritz and Susan Lyne. She was mentioned on Forbes USA as one of "The Top Women in Venture Capital and Angel Investing" in 2012.
After being entirely dedicated to entrepreneurs for years, she has also founded Women.vc - a not-for-profit initiative for the advancment of women in the investment industry, whether it's venture capital or private equity markets. Renata led an important research on U.S. women VC's performance, which showed that the net return from their portfolio companies is on par with, if not better than, the industry average.
Besides investment work, she has a passion for knowledge and possesses a strong academic acumen. She also co-authored an educational course on venture capital and entrepreneurship (2014), wrote "The Manual For Finding A Perfect Mentor For Entrepreneur" (2013) and "Networking done classy" (2015). She is a frequent speaker and moderator at international events on entrepreneurship and capital markets.
Who is your role model as a leader?
Now, when I think about that, my grandmother comes to mind. She was a bright intelligent woman, always busy with work, doing various things and learning something new. She was a psychiatrist and led a hospital department. She was married once and for life to my grandfather, who was a very respected doctor in our country. However, my grandmother was brilliant in her own right: she maintained strong relationships with hundreds of friends, including men, who mutually liked and respected her. I think it is from her I learned how to have men as allies, how to gain their respect, and be accepted by the 'boys club'. She was very confident, well educated, developed herself on both a personal and professional level and always took good care of herself. She taught me to speak with confidence and be ready to talk to men with the same level of sarcasm, intelligence or attitude they address you with, so that they feel you are an equal. Then, they have no option but to respect us and our abilities.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
To be heard. You know, it's a crazy world we are living in: there is tons of information pouring in on us every day, hundreds of people we have to stay in touch with regularly, as well as a whole rainbow of opinions that certainly affects our perception. And it is not that easy to cut through all this noise, good or bad.
It is very important for a person to have a clear message, and in our age, where we are all more or less in the public eye. So my greatest achievement is keeping my message clear. Staying true to myself, my beliefs, and what's very important to me - staying true to my words. I am a former journalist, as much as one can be former in this profession. I was taught by the old-school, where every published word counts and have carried this rule through to my personal and professional lives for more than a decade now. I believe, this is why people choose to hear me -- they feel my words are thought through, real and genuine.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
To find ways of showing a different perspective on gender inequality without imposing a foreign perspective. I've noticed that many people who moved to the U.S. from Europe and Asian countries, try to 'force' American women to believe there is no discrimination in the U.S., that they are already equal and merely don't try hard enough. That's actually quite a disrespectful opinion. While I understand the reason they see the situation this way, I never get tired of reminding non-U.S. men and women, that America has so many cultural and historical differences with other countries, that it is just ignorant to forget about them.
The United States has never had a patriarchal monarchy, so, unconditional men's leadership doesn't come as naturally to women here as it does in Europe, for example. In many countries, men's leadership is built into nation's DNA in a way that women don't consider men an outstanding obstacle to climbing the ladder of success. The United States took a shortcut from slavery to democracy, from non-voting women to the women's rights movement . And it happened not that long ago, so the genetic memory of both men and women can still taste the flavor of inequality.
"Therefore, it's up to both genders to work this out: if women continue to segregate themselves from men, the gap will keep growing."
I'm grateful that dozens of powerful men are friends of Women.VC. We can never emphasize enough that there are lots of men supportive of female entrepreneurs and investors, but it is not easy for them to break through all the noise of the gender discrimination issue. That's why we actively integrate men into our community, and it works!
How do you grow people in your organization?
I tend to say 'we' instead of 'I' and always put the team first. I develop my people through giving them challenges. I will always challenge them to work just a little bit harder than they'd do in their comfort zone, while at the same time not over-loading them with tasks. I believe we should all go at least one step further on our everyday path, otherwise we are not advancing neither as individuals, nor as a business. I expect my people to go 1% above and beyond every other day. If someone is not able to do that, then they are probably not the best fit for our team.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I could never answer that question, because I have always learned from my experience, whether it's good or bad, and converted any negative energy into fuel for growth. I can't say that I've had any significant failures or tried to avoid them. Everything that has happened, made me who I am today and I'm pretty satisfied with who I am.
"I believe life is about flow and energy. If you look after your own personal energy, it will bring you to the right people, put you in the right flow and circumstances to achieve your goals. That's why I believe everything in my life has happened right on time."
What differences do you notice between men and women?
Men are definitely more confident in everything they do. They aren't afraid of failure because they are awesome anyway! Unlike men, women are too sensitive to their failures. We tend to blame ourselves if we did something wrong or underperformed.
"The principle of 'fake it 'til you make it' sounds very controversial if taken literally, but what it really means in Silicon Valley, is to be a visionary. You need to see your ultimate goal, be persuasive about your vision and purpose, and bring other people on board with you. Most of the men I know are very good at doing that."
Women tend to be cautious to a fault and want to perfect things before telling others about them, but that often takes a lot of time. This is where we can fall behind and really fail! Women need to understand that we have to get a clear message about what we want and not be afraid of talking about it, even though we don't have all the results yet. Pitching results is a no brainer. What we ought to learn is how to pitch our vision right.
How would you describe your leadership style?
If there is one thing I am not at the office, it is a parent. I am a partner to my colleagues, I can be a coach, but I can't afford to be a nanny at work. Yes, I prefer to surround myself with people who know something I do not know, because that's how we all grow - complementing each other's work with particular knowledge. It's good for the team to have specialists who do things others can't. And I truly adore and respect people who can do something I can't.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to spend more time with my son straight after he was born. I went back to work 2 days after his birth and I'd tell myself to spend more time with him as a baby. I'm trying to contribute to developing kids today, especially girls, who are our next generation leaders. We need to start early if we want a different social environment for them.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
Despite the image I have of being a very structured person, always with a plan, when it comes to my strategic life goals, there has never been a plan! This is due to my belief and approach to managing my energy and going with the flow. I know that in the next 5 years, I want to accomplish 2 big projects. With Women.VC, we have a clear goal, where we want to increase the number of women in venture capital and private equity. We will do everything we can to achieve that. I'm leaving the second project open for the moment, going with the flow!
3 key words to describe yourself?
Watch Anne Ravanona's TEDx talk on Investing in Women Entrepreneurs.