Six Guiding Principles - Gender Diversity at Openspace

Jaclyn Seow
March 8, 2023

The statistics make clear that there is still more work to be done. Female founders still get less than 3% of all VC funding, there are still roughly 50% less women in tech, still 28% in senior management and still only about 30% of boards are made up of women*. But why should we care? Why should we continue to prioritize taking urgent action? While it’s true that these unconscious biases can lead tech companies and venture capitalists to leave a lot of money and (female) talent on the table, at Openspace we also care for a much more fundamental reason.

We believe everyone deserves the right to forge a career, where success results from people operating at their fullest, most productive and authentic selves. The truth is that women disproportionately encounter systematic challenges in achieving this. These challenges, however, are not insurmountable and we can play our part to help to address them. We can help push towards a fairer playing field that removes the barriers and hidden pitfalls women face as they seek to progress in venture capital and the tech ecosystem.

To close this gender gap and flatten the blockers, we are actively embracing 6 key principles:

  1. Having a diverse range of female role models is critical in challenging traditional gender stereotypes and promoting more diverse and inclusive representations of women in society. Not all female leaders or females in tech look the same – some are single, some are married; some dress in power suits, some wear dresses; some have children, some don’t. We believe it is important to inspire and empower women with a wide range of role models to look up to. We actively encourage our teams to invest in a strong, heterogeneous and supportive network.
  2. Promoting gender equity in the household is an important step towards achieving gender equity in the workplace and creating a more just and equal society for all. Some of the challenges in the workplace are contributed to by unequal household burdens, often based on traditional gender roles and expectations. At Openspace, our male colleagues are encouraged to take their paternity leave and we support flexible work arrangements to provide greater flexibility with caregiving responsibilities. We are working to improve our current practices so we better support equity at work and at home for our colleagues and their families.
  3. Acknowledging that diversity is nothing without inclusion. Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. At Openspace we invite everyone to dance. Our team is now 55% female and we have a 46% female leadership team**. But diversity goes far beyond just a number for us. We are prioritizing creating a workplace culture that is supportive, empowering and conductive to the success of women and the advancement of their careers.

          a.   We are developing clear structures for skills development and progression so there is transparency and gender neutrality in career building

          b.  We are ensuring our workplace is conducive for women and taking steps to ensure women feel valued, supported, safe and empowered to succeed. We have policies to address discrimination or misconduct, and we have private nursing room facilities for mothers returning to work.

          c.  We actively avoid assumptions tied to gender stereotypes. We do not assume that women make better party hosts (in fact, our in-house pizzaiolos are all male) or are better at administrative tasks. Our female colleagues are best-in-class in roles like financial modeling and coding (just ask our Senior Data Analyst, Yan San).

  1. Extending our commitment to diversity to our portfolio, in which 23% of our companies have one or more female founders. We are building awareness and addressing unconscious bias in the way we invest. Our 2022 workshop conducted by Nicole Denholder at Next Chapter Raise shone a spotlight on unconscious bias in investment evaluations, in which female founders tend to be asked more prevention-focused questions while males are asked more promotion-focused ones; and we have taken steps since to adjust our processes.
  2. Recognizing that mentorship is good, but sponsorship is better when overcoming barriers to career advancement. Mentorship is a valuable path for women to gain access to informal knowledge and networks. We encourage mentors to go one step further to advocate for their mentees in order to more fully support accelerated career growth and the breaking down of barriers to success. Our OpenHours Mentorship programme provides women outside of the firm access to our founders, investment team, leaders and operating specialists who dedicate their time to share knowledge, experience and connect mentees to their network when valuable.
  3. Acknowledging there isn’t one “right” way to address gender inequality – and accepting that we all have much to learn. Gender inequality is a complicated issue, and biases are held by women and men alike. We may get some things wrong in our quest to make things better, but we hope well-informed intentions and working together will set us on the right path towards greater gender equality.

As a Southeast Asian venture capital firm seeking to bring world-class support to our portfolio companies, gender diversity is just one of the forms of diversity that we choose to embrace***. We see these diversities as being a key advantage in making more insightful investment decisions and providing more impactful portfolio advisory, which combine together to deliver outsized returns to our valued investors. As we celebrate IWD 2023, we encourage others to consider how they might take similar steps and to contemplate why it matters for the success of their business and stakeholders.

* Based on statistics from Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte and McKinsey.

** We consider women in VP roles and up.

*** For instance, we have 37 full-time employees representing 11 nationalities across 5 countries in SEA.