80 Tech CEOs Rally in Open Letter to Trump/Clinton—But There’s One Big Problem

While policies would certainly help, we wouldn't need them nearly as much if tech executives didn't repeatedly take actions that contribute to this gender gap

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) speaks as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (R) listens during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York

Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can only do so much to fix these problems. Tech CEOs and VCs, however, can do a lot. Photo: Pool/Getty Images

We’ve written a lot about the obstacles of women in tech—despite the fact that women-led companies perform three times better than those with male CEOs, women in the U.S. own only five percent of startups and hold only 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies. They’re also significantly less likely to score VC money, leading them to start companies with 50 percent less funding than their male counterparts.

But the underrepresentation of women in business today is a missed opportunity, and not just from a social standpoint but an economic one as well. When women earn an income, they reinvest 90 percent back into their communities, and if women and men participate equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion. For all of these reasons, those in the tech and business world have already approached the next president of the United States with ideas for how to give women entrepreneurs more opportunities.

Today, Dell released an open letter to the presidential candidates with policy recommendations that will enhance business opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the U.S. More than 80 CEOs added their name to the letter, including those from MasterCard, SoulCycle, GoDaddy, Bonobos, GIPHY, Stitchfix, GrubHub, The Honest Company, Birchbox and more. Several VCs signed as well.

READ ALSO: 4 Tips for Female Entrepreneurs From the Woman Who Grew Birchbox to $485M

“Dell devised this letter because we wanted to hear from the country about #WhatWENeedToSucceed,” Elizabeth Gore, entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell Technologies, told the Observer. “Dell has been a longtime champion and supporter of women entrepreneurs through our initiatives like the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, and we saw an enormous opportunity…We wanted to bring together women entrepreneurs and policy makers from around the country to hear what they need in terms of policy to succeed at the highest level.”

Here’s the letter in full, which is titled “#WhatWENeedToSucceed: A Letter to the Next President on Behalf of Women Entrepreneurs.” It makes some good points, but there’s one big problem, which we explain later.

Nov. 1, 2016

To: Secretary Hillary Clinton / Mr. Donald Trump

Dear Madam Secretary / Mr. Trump:

We write to you today on behalf of our nation’s leading innovators, entrepreneurs and influencers regarding one of the largest untapped economic and social opportunities in our country – women entrepreneurs. If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion[1].

While women are starting businesses twice as fast as men[2], they face unique challenges, including experiencing disproportionately high failure rates, receiving only seven percent of venture capital and being represented in only seven percent of media stories. Through leadership and sound public policy, our country can benefit from the economic and social opportunity women entrepreneurs cultivate.

Over the last month, top business leaders – from enterprise CEOs to leading entrepreneurs – developed a set of policy and leadership recommendations that we believe will help women entrepreneurs start and scale businesses. Our suggestions for the necessary elements for success for women entrepreneurs focus on access to capital, expanding and supporting networks and markets, and addressing the changing face of business through technology.

First, we believe that access to and development of financial and human capital is essential to fostering women’s entrepreneurship; this can be supported through:

  • Incentives for individuals and organizations to invest in women-owned companies through venture funds, corporate venture, private equity and social capital.
  • Modernization and expansion of existing government certification, grant and loan programs that help women-owned businesses compete to reflect changing investment models.
  • Promotion and marketing of existing government programs to encourage broader awareness and use.
  • Continuing to foster small-business lending programs, including support for bridge loans.
  • Working with innovators to create new sources of capital such as crowdfunding and impact investments.
  • Encouraging enterprise corporations, federal departments and state/local contracts to increase supplier diversity with a percentage of contracts being awarded to women-owned businesses.
  • Considering a shortening of government payment cycles from 90 days to 30 days for small women-owned suppliers.
  • Expanding access to family-friendly policies including access to high-quality, affordable child care, care-giving and paid family leave policies.

Second, as women entrepreneurs and business owners turn to each other for help, we believe that the government and business leaders can help facilitate connections by increasing access to local and global networks and markets, by:

  • Supporting trade agreements that further liberalize trade and open new markets for businesses of all sizes.
  • Promoting global and open standards, and reliable mechanisms for cross-border data transfers and business support services and networks, while providing sufficient protections for privacy and information security.
  • Supporting mentorship efforts through financial support and encouragement of multiplier platforms such as accelerators, continuing education and training programs, and facilitated networking events.
  • Encouraging conscious placement of women on boards, in venture partnerships and on executive teams.
  • Promoting positive success stories of female founders and business owners through the media, conferences and leadership movements.

Finally, as industry lines blur, we see technology-driven implications for both government and business. Government and business leaders can help women entrepreneurs thrive in the changing-face of technology, through:

  • Streamlining the process of registering businesses and applying for government resources, particularly when working with strategic offices such as the Patent & Trademark Office, the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Drug Administration.
  • Emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and digital literacy in education and early training programs.
  • Working with business leaders and educators to encourage technology training programs to end unconscious biases in the STEM fields, government, corporations and institutions.
  • Enabling access to broadband in all areas of our country.
  • Increasing awareness of options women have to the hardware, software and digital resources they need to scale their companies.

Through empowering and promoting women entrepreneurs, we can help create jobs and solve some of our biggest economic and social challenges. Women put 90 percent of their income into their communities and families[3], therefore we believe their success will not only benefit our economy, but will also have a positive impact on society.  We hope that you will make fostering female entrepreneurship a domestic policy priority during your upcoming term and look forward to working with you and your administration to implement the above recommendations and fulfill one of the greatest economic opportunities of our time.

You can read the full list of signees here.

While several of these points are spot-on (early STEM education, for example), it’s interesting to see these CEOs and venture partners rallying on many of these other issues. Many of these bullet points refer to steps that those currently running the tech world, rather than the next president, have control over. While policies would certainly help, we wouldn’t need them nearly as much if tech executives didn’t repeatedly take actions that lead to the gender gap we described in statistics above.

“Encouraging conscious placement of women on boards, in venture partnerships and on executive teams,” reads one bullet point. That is something these CEOs can do on their own. The same goes for “expanding access to family-friendly policies including access to high-quality, affordable child care, care-giving and paid family leave policies.” Or are the signees implying they will offer paid family leave if it is government mandated or heavily encouraged?

Another reads, “Incentives for individuals and organizations to invest in women-owned companies through venture funds, corporate venture, private equity and social capital.” A number of founders and partners at venture firms signed this letter, and even if these specific VCs invest more in women than the industry average, why are they calling on the future president rather than their colleagues and industry competitors? They asked for incentives, but if this issue is so important to them (which it seems it is, based on this letter) shouldn’t that be enough of an incentive?

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.