Jessica Peltz-Zatulove and Women in Venture Capital

Jessica Peltz-Zatulove is a partner at MDC Ventures, the corporate venture branch of MDC Partners. Four months into entering the venture capital (VC) community, she began working on an internal panel event. Jessica reached out to an investor that she was friends with, who agreed to speak, but, when reviewing the panel list, he pointed out that there were no women in the panel. It was in that moment that Peltz-Zatulove became glaringly cognizant of the degree that women were underrepresented in VC.

“I had been in venture for almost four months, and I’ve literally met two other women. You don’t really think about it, but when you take a step back, [you realize] ‘wow’ … I only have a couple of women I can reach out to.

Afterwards, the investor introduced her to a dozen female investors. Through those meetings and coffee dates, Peltz-Zatulove met Sutian Dong, a partner at Female Founders Fund. It was through this introduction that Peltz-Zatulove and Dong realized their shared interest in creating and sustaining a community for women in VC. In 2014, the two women began organizing the VC community in New York City.

According to Peltz-Zatulove, “We’re seeing this really nice watershed moment. There are a lot of macro-cultural trends that are driving that. Also, you’re just seeing women having a desire to connect, collaborate, and support each other.” Indeed, what started out as 15-16 women who met for happy hour together in the city has grown into a community of more than 260 women who meet for bimonthly dinners and events. Beyond the New York community, the duo have started a global directory of women in VC, featuring 850 women around the world, across 500+ funds and 15 different countries.

When reflecting on the community she has created, Peltz-Zatulove highlighted the tangible impacts that the organization has catalyzed: “The attendance, the engagement — we’re starting to see more and more women sharing deal flows in collaborating, to co-invest together, [and] some women are getting jobs out of it.”

In addition to creating a community among women, Peltz-Zatulove and Dong are also looking to publish information on The State of Women in VC in early January. Through information and demographics from the global directory, they hope to demystify common misperceptions about women in VC and tech, including what areas they’re investing in and the roles that they hold within their respective firms. Through Peltz-Zatulove’s involvement in understanding trends in VC, she is also optimistic about improvements within the community that are happening concurrently.

“Diverse teams perform better … You’re seeing some initiatives where founders won’t take capital from investors that don’t have any women partners … [Other] investors [are] offering diversity and inclusion training to make sure your first 5, 10, 15 hires aren’t super bro-y.”

Even among the day-to-day meetings with investors and startups, Peltz-Zatulove looks for opportunities to bring more awareness of the issue of underrepresentation in VC.

“The more you start to wake up and be aware of it is when there can start to be more change. I always look for gender-balanced teams. If I’m meeting with a founder, and if I see their deck and its two or three male founders and their entire board of advisors is all male, I’ll call them out on it. It’s intended for them to be aware of [the problem]. Because sometimes, it's just this unconscious bias that people don’t recognize.”

The culmination of active initiatives to foster women in VC, changing industry trends, and of micro-efforts to increase awareness leads Peltz-Zatulove to conclude that New York City will be the first place where the gender parity in tech and VC will be achieved. “I genuinely believe New York will be the market that changes the gender balance in tech. If you just look at this melting pot, we have so many talented women across finance, media, fashion, and retail, and there are just so many women in power in New York.” What begins in New York will hopefully be an example for other cities in achieving greater gender parity in VC.