Survey suggests progress, room for improvement on equitable compensation for women in venture capital

Canadian Women in VC has released its third annual survey, which paints a picture of gender-based compensation across roles in Canada’s venture capital (VC) sector.

The 2021 Canadian Venture Capital Compensation Report found that, for investment roles, salaries and bonuses are lower for women than men in more junior roles, but higher in more senior positions, with the exception of partners.

On the operations side of VC, the survey reported that although women represent a majority across all roles, they are consistently paid less than their male peers.

The survey found that, for investment roles, salaries and bonuses are lower for women than men in more junior roles, but higher in more senior positions, with the exception of partners.

These findings suggest that although the Canadian VC sector has taken some strides towards equitably compensating male and female investors, two groups of women remain underpaid relative to their male counterparts: women in early-career investment roles, and women working in operations.

Through the anonymized survey, which collected responses from 140 individuals working in VC in Canada, Canadian Women in VC wants to “increase transparency around compensation data, spark more conversations, and move the dial on equitable compensation.”

Founded in 2017, Canadian Women in VC aims to support the next generation of women in Canada’s VC sector through professional development and networking opportunities. The Toronto-based grassroots organization, which began as a bi-monthly dinner series with five women, has since grown into a community with over 200 active members.

Nabeela Merchant, a Canadian Women in VC committee member who helped put together this survey, told BetaKit that the organization decided to be more vocal given the amount of responses its survey generated in 2020.

The organization put together its first VC compensation survey in 2018, generating 26 responses. After skipping 2019, Canadian Women in VC launched its second survey in 2020, recording participation from 120 people.

“In the past, [VC compensation] was … generally like an unspoken thing, or only talked about behind closed doors,” said Merchant, a former associate at Relay Ventures and current investor at the Telus Pollinator Fund for Good. “We had really good representation last year, so it felt appropriate to be more vocal this time around.”

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VC funding in Canada has soared amid COVID-19, and the sector has seen an explosion of high profile exits fuelled by the growth of Canadian tech companies during the pandemic.

Amid that, Canada has a number of women-focused and led investment groups, including Toronto-based StandUp Ventures, BDC’s Women in Technology Venture Fund, Calgary’s The51, and Halifax-based Sandpiper Ventures. But, according to a 2018 report from Female Funders, women represented only 14 percent of Canadian VCs at the time.

A 2019 report from Female Funders and Highline Beta also indicated that just 13.5 percent of partners at Canadian venture funds are women, with only 8.9 percent serving as managing partners, suggesting women also remain underrepresented in leadership investment roles.

On the VC investment side, the Canadian Women in VC survey found that women working in analyst, senior analyst, and associate roles make three to 13 percent less than their male counterparts in median salary. Bonus-wise, female analysts also make 43 to 46 percent less than men, while associates earn the same.

Conversely, women on the investment side of VC working in more senior roles, including as senior associate, vice president, principal, and director, make more than men for the most part.

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However, this excludes female partners, who pull 27 percent less in salary, and 90 percent less in bonuses, according to the survey. Interestingly, these findings contrast with those of the 2020 survey.

“Last year, for example, women analysts were earning more than men but then it reversed somewhere in the middle, where from there on out, men earned more,” said Merchant. “This time around, we’re seeing almost a reversal of that, where at the junior level, women are earning less but now at the senior level, they’ve caught up.”

While these statistics show some progress, they are based on a small group of subjects and not necessarily representative of the entire Canadian ecosystem. However, Merchant is hopeful the survey can help move the dial. She expressed hopes that the changes at the more senior level are, in part, because following last year’s survey, people working in VC are able to ask for more.

“What we’ve found over the years, by sharing this information, is that it is kind of levelling out what salary should look like and we are finding people now know what to ask for and can make more informed decisions at different levels,” she added.

The survey’s gender-based compensation breakdown contrasts with how Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) individuals are paid.

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In entry level and partner roles, the survey reported that BIPOC individuals in VC earn more, on average, than non-BIPOC individuals. At the same time, they draw smaller salaries and bonuses at the president and principal level, where they have the most representation, according to the survey.

These results don’t line up with the findings of the 2020 survey, which found BIPOC individuals in VC earned more than their peers at the entry level and less in more senior roles. “It’s hard to know what to make of [this],” said Merchant. “It could be that BIPOC as a variable isn’t a significant factor when it comes to salary.” Merchant added that with regard to some of the survey’s demographic findings, certain categories also have limited representation, making it difficult to draw conclusions.

“As employers, we really appreciate the benchmarking and the detail that’s in there,” Michelle McBane, managing director of StandUp Ventures, told BetaKit. “In some cases, I think the sample sets can be too small to really draw a conclusion, and that’s just going to change over time as more people join the industry.”

On the VC operations side, women draw a median salary that is between 16 and 21 percent lower than men working in the same position. They also earn a 40 to 76 percent smaller median bonus at the VP/director and partner level, respectively. The survey found similar results for BIPOC individuals in operations roles across the board.

According to Merchant, these findings track with last year’s survey. “What was frustrating to see is that it was clear that … there were more women in operations roles than men, and so even though they were the primary gender for that type of work, they were underpaid compared to their male peers,” she added.

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The survey also found that while higher education does not have a meaningful effect on salary, larger amounts of assets under management (AUM) are associated with higher median salaries, on average, and for both groups, median salaries tend to increase in tandem with years of overall work experience.

Canadian Women in VC also found that individuals with less overall work experience and VC experience are earning more than tenured professionals with the same title. “This may point to a trend of increased competition for new hires and its impact on wages,” the survey states.

“More than I’ve ever seen, there’s so many public postings of VC roles that would have, even three years ago, been filled before they had a chance to be published,” said Merchant. “I’m not hearing that people are finding it difficult to get applicants for these postings, but there’s definitely more of them.”

McBane doesn’t think competition is driving this trend. Instead, she believes it could be fuelled by the quality of new entrants with experience in other fields. “There’s a lot of people with a breadth of experience joining the industry, and that’s pretty interesting because it’s going to help move the needle overall,” said McBane. “It’s starting to be attractive for people with deep industry experience.”

“I think what you’re starting to see is that [more] people are viewing VC as a career track, or even a place to be for a period in your career,” she added.

Feature image by Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling and breaking Canadian tech and innovation stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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