There are very few women in venture capital. Black females? Almost none. Venture Capital is an industry made up of private partnerships that recruit similar people from known networks, thereby resulting in an exclusive, rather than inclusive, environment. In reality, it’s a complete anomaly that I’m even in this game.
The lion’s share of my career has been in investing; specifically, investing in software companies in exchange for equity. But it didn’t start that way. I was hired by Intel in 1997 and for a couple years I worked in technical marketing. I grew bored, however, because in that position I wasn’t using my hard-earned MBA. I wanted the opportunity to marry my technical background with my business acumen, so the move to Intel Capital seemed like an obvious fit. After interviewing with six people (yes, six) I had the job. I was ecstatic.
Over the next decade, I was promoted every other year due to merit: I contributed by making financially and strategically successful investments and was rewarded. In my 10th year, I aspired to be a corporate officer at the VP level. At Intel this is a very big deal because as a company, we value the notion that great ideas can come from anywhere, so we are cautious about titles that create a perception of hierarchy that might inhibit the free flow of innovation. As a result, we’ve named very few VPs. It’s a sophisticated process and involves more than a traditional performance review. Nominations are solicited through executive staff members and a nominee’s work is rigorously evaluated by our executive management committee, with veto rights given to Intel's CEO.
As I considered applying, I saw strengths and weaknesses, but concluded that I had the data to support my case. The performance of my investment portfolio was solid and my promotions spoke for themselves. My staff and peer relationships were also a positive, though I needed to continue to network and reach out to other departments because visibility is important; the more people who can speak to your work, the better off you are. But still, it is an intimidating process with a very high failure rate so if I was going to go for it, I had to throw myself into it and leave behind any fear and doubt.
So I put in the hours. I filled out the application and set meetings with several key decision makers. And by making my aspirations clear, I received support from several sponsors, who had been advocating for my career development along the way as part of the Intel Network of Executive Women. They gave critical input and helped move my nomination forward. In the meantime, I continued my day-to-day work determined to maintain a standard of excellence. I anxiously awaited any news on the appointment. Several months passed.
And then the news: I not only earned the position, I managed to secure it in my first year of application. This happens very infrequently so I felt like I had just been inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was overjoyed; not so much about the appointment but by the fact that I had taken the risk and been recognized for my contribution and my potential.
As a woman and a person of color, people may think I received special breaks along the way. That’s why I love Intel: Regardless of your background, you have to follow the progression of the organization and supply quantifiable results to get to the next level. I was among people who were open-minded enough to look at me as I am and for what I had accomplished; they were not looking at color and gender to decide if I was good enough.
The lesson that I learned over the past several years is simple: Stand up for yourself and celebrate what you’ve done. Lean in to ensure that your entire career gets recognized, not just one project. And never quit. I think as women, we often give up too soon and don't believe in our capabilities enough to overcome the challenges that we will inevitably face. If I've learned anything during my career, it's that you have to maintain your focus, always give your best effort, and never give up. If you consistently do those things, you will win.