Women, Money, and My Path to VC

From phones, kitchen tables, and home offices, women are finding new ways to make money. Get comfortable with it.

Header image for chat with VCs Brianne Kimmel and Sarah Kunst about women and money. Images of the women against a bright yellow and green background.

Ashley Batz, Mitchell Nguyen Mccormack

We’re in an era where the relationship between women and money is strengthening, we’re not only making it, we’re not afraid to talk about it! After centuries of low economic opportunity, women (notably younger generations) are building wealth for themselves through:

  • Education: we’re not talking about traditional MBAs, we’re learning online, through friends, and learning by doing (rolling up our sleeves and starting something new). 
  • Side projects: we’re working full-time, while we freelance or get a business off the ground. 
  • Businesses: stores on Shopify, crafts on Etsy, the internet has turned everyone into a creative entrepreneur
  • Social media: Instagram is obvious, but also investing apps like Public where we can become a leading expert and help the next generation be better than the last. 

Beyond improving quality of life for the women themselves, these hustles also positively impact the lives of those around them. For example, in 2017, 31% of women who were married or cohabitating contributed at least half of the couple’s total earnings. This is a huge stride from 1960, when only 11% of married women with children under 18 out-earned their spouse.

Despite some couples’ reluctance to admit it when women earn more, those who are open about it have great things to say:

  • Life coach Susie Moore has been out-earning her husband since her early twenties. It’s never been a problem. The couple celebrates the financial and emotional support they each bring to the table.
  • Personal finance expert and lifestyle influencer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the breadwinner in her relationship. She says that, despite what people may think, her relationship with her husband is great because they both make equal contributions to the marriage.

Meg Keene, founder of the largest independently held wedding publication, makes double the income that her lawyer husband does. In 2016, she published a piece about it anonymously, afraid people would respond negatively. She recently chose to reclaim her words and acknowledge that it’s normal for women to earn more than their partners.

Slowly but surely, we are seeing the locus of power shifting in gender dynamics. As women take on more positions of leadership, many men are supporting their progress by stepping aside. Take Olivia Wilde, who cast boyfriend Harry Styles in her fourth directorial project. In an Instagram post, she highlighted the importance of men who are willing to play supporting roles in female-led films. “The industry has raised them to believe it lessens their power,” she said. For this reason, it was a big deal that Styles “jumped on board [to play a supporting role] with humility and grace.”

We’re here for it.

Despite this progress, the gender pay gap holds firm. In 2020, women received 84 cents to each dollar men earned. These statistics don’t reflect the specific struggles faced by low-wage workers, who experienced a disproportionate amount of job loss throughout the pandemic. Race also stratifies these numbers; census data from 2020 showed that Black women earned 64 cents to the dollar and Hispanic women earned 64 cents to the dollar. 

While we’re making progress, there’s still a long way to go.

Women and Money: Let’s Talk About It

I recently sat down with The Cut writer Brooke LaMantia to chat about women and money. In the story (which you can read here), Cleo Capital founder Sarah Kunst and I discuss our relationship to all things money as women in venture capital. 

In my behind-the-scenes interview with LaMantia, we also dived deep into my roots, career path, and attitude towards money. Our conversation touched on:

  • How it felt being the first white-collar worker in my family 
  • What is was like being raised in a Ukrainian immigrant family 
  • When I first felt like I had money
  • How I talk about money 
  • How my partner and I pay for things at home
  • Why my first fund isn’t solely female-focused tech 

In 2014, Fidelity found that 75% of women surveyed wanted to learn more about money and investing. However, 80% of these women had at some point refrained from talking about money with someone close to them, citing that it was too personal, uncomfortable, or taboo. I’m sharing highlights from this talk here as a resource for these women, and anyone else researching ways women can make money despite discomfort talking about finances.

Women make money. Let’s talk about it.

My Relationship to Work as Part of a Ukrainian Immigrant Family 

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, “Silicon Valley” and “venture capitalist” were not words in my vocabulary. 

I come from a Ukrainian immigrant family of very hard working people with a traditional labor ethic. My parents and grandparents were like a lot of people in their generation that worked hard for the same company and worked their way up over time. When I look at the location flexibility and increasingly flexible working hours typical seen in tech, this is far from the experience of most of our parents and grandparents.

My goal was to get out of Ohio and go to London, New York—anywhere more interesting. I knew university was my outbound ticket, so I began taking college courses at Kent State while I was still in high school. When I graduated, I was the first in my immediate family to have a four year degree. 

Two weeks later, I moved to Sydney with my best friend, one suitcase, and no job.

After knocking on many doors, I landed my first position at an ad agency working on early social campaigns for Nikon.

Ways for Women to Make Money: Get Rich and Take Risks Trying 

In the following years, I worked in Hong Kong, worked remotely across Asia, and ultimately settled in San Francisco, in the height of its popularity as the global HQ for the tech industry. 

Although I was making $100,000, none of that money was going back into my pocket. When I took stock of my finances, I found that most of my money was going to:

  • Taxes
  • Rent
  • Uber
screenshot of craigslist ad for a $1515 "converted living room." The Bay Area prices put a strain on even women making lots of money.

The high cost of living in the Bay Area meant I was still living paycheck to paycheck. It wasn’t until the last 12 months that I began to feel like I am making money and building wealth.

See: The Sketchiest Bay Area Apartments You Can Rent

Angel investing is what made that happen. Savings that would have earned 1-2% are now being multiplied 6-10 times. That’s a life-changing difference. Yet, no one encouraged me to get started. 

In fact, when I began angel investing, people told me that 99% of startups fail and warned me I was cutting into my savings for something that wouldn’t pan out. 

I felt the pressure. However, college scholarships had left me with little student debt and thus more financial freedom. I decided to take the risk. 

So far, my angel portfolio has a 100% graduation rate. I haven't seen a company fail yet.

Women and Money: A Guilt-Ridden Space

With these high returns, do many women invest? Historically, no.

However, younger generations are changing that. One study found that:

  • 62% of Boomer women are investing outside of retirement
  • 67% of Gen X women are investing outside of retirement
  • 71% of Millennial women are investing outside of retirement

The study also reported that, when women do invest, they experience more success than their male counterparts. 

Despite this, men continue to overrepresent in venture capital. 

2018 data showed that 58% of venture capitalists were white men and only

  • 11% were White women
  • 6% were Asian women
  • 1% were Black women
  • <1% were Latinx women

Women are encouraged to save, not invest.

Fortunately, this advice (from foregoing shoes to only making coffee at home) receives pushback in the form of satire, articles, and conversations about the underlying messaging women face: spending is shameful. 

This messaging exists in stark contrast to what my male peers in VC learn. They are encouraged to buy a big house or nice sports car and to show it off as a signal of power. 

We are seeing the first generations where women and nonbinary individuals are making good money early on in their careers. In a handful of U.S. metro areas, women under 30 are actually making as much or more than their male peers. While these individuals are outperforming their male peers in many ways, they are still taught that they should save and be responsible with their money. 

The problem is, having money just sitting in your bank account does nothing for you. There are better ways to make it grow.

Women and Money: Talking Through Discomfort

In 2020, I spoke to Shaan Puri and Sam Parr on the My first Million podcast about how I make money as a VC. Listeners were curious to learn more about venture capital and to hear about a woman in this space.

While it’s often uncomfortable to talk about money, opportunities like this allow me to bring attention to the important work women are doing in tech. There are so many ways for women to make money in this space:

  • We’re leading companies
  • We’re founding brands
  • We're actively angel investing in startups 

Quick Ways for Women to Make Money: Financial Literacy

Millennial women are making big financial gains, but talking about money still doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It’s exciting to see this changing with the next cohort. I recently sat down with pandemic grads to learn about Gen Z in the workplace. Many shared that they are talking about money because they have to. Only 6% of Gen Z investors don’t talk openly about their finances.

In the age of social media, there’s also plenty of online content that pushes people to grow their financial literacy. NFTs are a great example. Although many NFTs won’t pan out, the buzz around them motivates people to learn about new concepts, like the appreciation of an asset over time.

The same can be said for meme stocks. Yes, they're memes. Yes, people discover them on Reddit. But they are getting people to ask:

  • What does this term mean? 
  • Should I be buying stocks? 
  • Would investing help me achieve my financial goals? 

Interesting Ways Women Make Extra Money

TikTok is also home to quality content aimed at financial literacy. There is a wave of women making money and talking about it. There are also many women using the platform to build a following and earn more. Examples of social-side-hustles-turned-full-time-jobs include:

@yayalexisgay when someone asks “how was work today?”#work #tech #comedy ♬ original sound - Alexis Gay

I encourage women that I meet to find creative ways to make more money. The last thing you want to do is stop spending money. Skipping your favorite $4 coffee is not going to change your life. Finding ways to earn more will.

There are so many ways for women to make money at home or online. We highlight these stories on the worklife blog

If you are searching for ways for women to make money from home, don’t wait to identify your passion. Brainstorm how to turn it into your full time gig. Once you are doing something you care about, the incentives to go at it with everything you’ve got grow. In turn, so does your wealth.

New Trends Provide Creative Ways for Women to Make Money

We are in a pivotal global moment where millions are reevaluating what matters— work included. The Great Resignation saw many leave jobs they disliked. People began curating how they spend their time. 

Last year, our state of worklife report found that 70% of people we surveyed were either building something on evenings and weekends or learning a new skill outside of their job.

The New American Dream now lives outside of the office:

  • Creatives can win friends and a good salary as influencers or freelancers. 
  • After rescinded offers and moves back home, Gen Zers are willing to take risks 
  • In the era of hybrid work, anyone can find success from the kitchen table

So, why isn’t my fund female-focused? 

In 2019, angel investing became my side project; a fun hobby that allowed me to meet interesting people. I began writing small checks for products I liked using at work:

  • Tools for remote teams
  • Tools for the creative economy
  • Enterprise software

Once my portfolio grew and I started making my pitch to investors for my first fund, many asked why I was focusing on enterprise. Shouldn’t I be building a fund for female-focused brands? One investor sent me a pitch deck asking for insight on a direct-to-consumer tampon brand. I had to break it to him that, though I’m a woman, menstrual products are not a niche I’m qualified to analyze.

The expectation was that my work in venture capital would stay firmly within the confines of my gender. 

Worklife is future-of-work focused, not women-focused. However, the tools we invest in that shape the future of work greatly benefit women. This truth was a blindspot for many male investors.

Enterprise software for remote teams can make a social-impact and be mission-driven. Just ask a working mother about the start-ups making parenting a little easier, or your freelancing friend about the tools that make her life easier.  

Worklife invests in these companies that are improving the lives of many women and nonbinary individuals. Additionally, the majority of our investments are in companies with a female CEO or a female co-founder. This is critical. As Karen Cahn broke down for us in our Now, New, Next event about how to raise capital for a startup, women and nonbinary founders just aren’t getting the same support as men are.

Not only does Worklife invest in female founders that are building the future of work, but we're also ensuring that those teams are 50/50. I spend half of my week leveraging my network to source and close female candidates for portfolio companies. 

On evenings and weekends, I’m also thinking about how to make money for women. I use this time to:

  • Talk to women in tech 
  • Talk to women who are thinking about starting a company
  • Talk to women who are pivoting in their career
  • Talk to CEOs and people in the tech ecosystem to figure out what fair salary and equity compensation looks like; this way I can ensure women are getting paid fairly

Women and Money: My Schedule

How do I fit this all into a seven day week? A schedule that is also work-focused on evenings and weekends (take a peek at my google calendar in this post about remote work tips). 

screenshot of jam-packed google calendar. Creative ways women make money can quickly fill a schedule.

Because I am a solo female capitalist in this space, many of my male VC peers are less likely to understand the amount of effort I put it in outside of traditional work hours. These peers often have stay-at-home wives or partners, who can:

  • Run household and life operations
  • Drive home renovations
  • Do household taxes

My partner and I both have demanding jobs. While this is challenging, we both value having someone who appreciates the amount of work we do. We’ve also developed a system that works for us; our finances are separate, but we split purchases 50/50 and take equal shares of work on chores and vacation planning.

Black and white photo of Betty White—one of many successful women with money in Hollywood—signing a fan's back.

How Can Women Make Money? The Long Haul

Whether you currently have the freedom a single, kids-free life affords, or you have a family to take care of, you can start taking steps to grow your money today.

First, I recommend setting a high-reaching goal for how much money you want to make. This will give you a target. Even if it moves over time, having a point you are striving for is a good motivator for finding new ways to make more money. 

Second, pay attention to trends in the career trajectories of successful women. We're going to see women that outlive men and outperform their male peers, but who do so later in their lives. There will be life-changing generational wealth, but it may come after:

  • Having kids
  • Getting a divorce
  • Going through a change that reduces family obligations 

Many of my close female friends are in their 60s and 70s and are absolutely thriving. Take Betty White or Arianna Huffington’s career trajectory as examples. Both achieved greater success later in life. 

The future of work is rapidly shifting and we will continue to see women and nonbinary individuals make big impacts here, both early in careers and later in life. 

Are you a woman or nonbinary person who just started a cool new project? Tell me about it on Twitter!

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