Thursday, November 18, 1999

The Token Woman ~ by Aliza Sherman

I was recently invited to participate in the iBreakfast Angels Advisory
Board, and the incentive given to potential advisors was a photo and bio in
the event's materials. I was honored to be asked and felt that the last 5
years of running my own Internet company and observing the explosive growth
of this industry from the early days gave me relevant experience to rate
and review pitches for new business concepts.

Although given only a few days to review over 35 pitches, I dashed off a
detailed email moments before leaving for a business trip in Buenos Aires,
proud of myself for getting the assignment in on time. Upon my return, I
attended the event with great anticipation, interested in seeing the 7 top
pitches made in front of a panel of venture experts and hear their feedback.

First, I was struck by how there was only one woman on the panel of venture
experts, and while I was thinking that I was the only one who noticed, when
she was introduced, the first thing she said was "I'm the only woman."
Maybe only women notice these things.

Next, the organizer of the event announced all of the advisors who
participated and as he read down the list, I noticed a complete absence of
female names. Wait a minute. I was an advisor, and last time I checked, I
was also female. Hmmm...he didn't mention me or any other woman as having
participated in the preliminary rating and reviewing process. (I also
happened to notice there were no photos or bios of the advisors in the
print materials, but hey, these things happen).

Then, I realized that all 7 pitches of the day were companies fronted by
and pitches given by men. Now granted, there were only 7 or 8 pitches
submitted by women via email in the original batch of 35+, but 1 of them
was extremely compelling - a travel site geared toward people in their 20s
- and another was the only female-oriented one - a multimedia site
featuring female recording artists (a project that I noted in my review I'd
love to help out). But if I was the only female on the iBreakfast Angel
advisory board, I have a strong suspicion that I was the only advisor who
picked several women-fronted pitches, picking them, of course, on their
merits, but picking them nonetheless.

Now, you may be saying "Oh, that Aliza Sherman is too sensitive about the
woman-thing," but I must add that there were several ethnic-oriented
pitches in the original bunch, including two incredibly strong ones (one
about African American athletes and one about reaching the U.S. Hispanic
market in an interesting way). But alas, just a bunch of white guys got to
pitch (from what I saw). Needless to say, the venture panel was also quite

In an email to the iBreakfast event organizer, I included the following
statement: "As you know, my entire work is about empowering women to use
technology and to prosper from it. It is frustrating - even in my position
- to constantly only see men positioned as the experts, as the advisors, as
the ones holding the purse strings, as the ones with the 'good ideas.'"

To prove that I'm not just a whiner, I am offering my time to anyone -
media, event planner, venture capitalist - who would like to find more
women entrepreneurs and women investors. I have a rolodex full of them. I
meet them all the time, all around the world. I'm happy to put you in
touch. Email me at

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