In this installment of our Driven Women series, Fluid Truck Co-Founder Jen Snyder sits down with Nishita Cummings, who is the managing partner and co-head of the growth capital at Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors. Read on to see what Nishita has to say about working as a woman in venture capital, the importance of representation and diversity, and more.
Interview is edited for clarity.
Jen: What’s it like to be a woman in the venture capital space?
Nishita: I would say that it is demanding, it's lonely, it's challenging. But it's also exhilarating. All that said, what I think is that all of those things could describe what it’s like to be a leader in any organization where you’re continuing to push yourself to be the best.
I do think women have a unique set of circumstances that they experience, which is some of the other commitments and roles that they play outside of the office, one of which is motherhood. I don’t think, at times, that the work environment, as well as venture capital, has been historically set up to foster or encourage some of those things that are other commitments that women also face.
J: So do you think that women are well-represented in the VC world? What’s the representation like?
N: Well, I think the short answer is no, but I don’t think this is just my opinion. It’s just what the numbers say.
Angel investing in the tech world, public companies, private companies. As you kind of go through the entire organizational stack, whether it be junior employees to senior to board level, the numbers kind of speak for themselves, and that representation just isn’t there. It doesn’t matter what industry.
I actually work closely with an organization whose most recent study shows men hold 88% of investor-appointed board seats, and 91% of executive board seats in private companies are held by men. So are women well-represented? No.
But, I do think that’s changing. I think the counterexample to that is that you’re seeing the numbers of stats on more women graduating with degrees and higher education than their male counterparts. I think change should be driven from the top down. Kudos to Fluid Truck that you guys are doing this series acknowledging that because that’s really a cultural type of thing that needs to be driven.
J: So what are some of the benefits that you’ve seen in companies that do have strong female founders or, you know, have investor pools that have strong female representation?
N: I think the biggest benefit is that that change is impacted from the top down. I also think that from a finance perspective, it’s important to be able to have a common connection to the companies we invest in, and we have to relate to the companies and people we’re investing in.
Today, more than ever, it’s easier to start a business. And so what that means is, there are more diverse individuals starting companies. So if you want to invest in the best, you have to relate to the best, which means you need a more diverse team at these financial organizations.
Having people come from a variety of diverse backgrounds allows for diverse thought and more creativity, better results, and better performance. I think it’s important for the advancement of underrepresented groups and for society at large.
J: What are some tips and/or pieces of advice you have for female entrepreneurs looking for funding to launch their business? What are some things you’ve seen that help with success long-term?
N: There are a couple of things. I think you really need to encourage women to start businesses in college. So when I think about “How do you get women more into the workforce and more into the entrepreneurial side, that education process and mentorship need to start at the college level or even before that. They have more of an affinity to take those risks earlier in their careers. So start encouraging them to start businesses – taking those risks – all the way from college. Providing them with access to the same resources and same equitable treatment is also important.
Will it be harder? Yes. Will you have to push more? Yes, but if I look at my own personal experience, I think it’s made me better. Despite the challenges of today, I’m optimistic for what women can do in the future.
My biggest piece of advice I tell anyone is to be so good that they cannot ignore you.
J: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time. You’re someone that inspired me from the time we met, and I just feel really fortunate to have some time with you today.
N: Well, the feeling is mutual. Thank you so much for having me.