Palo Alto female founder intent on bringing diversity to leadership positions, sharing lesson from her own billion dollar company

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The Bay Area is home to some of the most valuable companies in the world. But until recently, very few of those companies were founded by women. In fact, less than 15 perfecnt of privately-held companies valued at more than $1 billion, or what's known in the startup world as "unicorns," have female founders. It's a term coined in 2004, when startups were just beginning to make their mark. Now there are more than 300+ of these so-called unicorns around the world. But it's still rare to see a woman leading the charge.

"I hope 2019 goes down as the tipping point for a lasting change," said Neha Narkhede, one of the co-founders of Palo Alto-based Confluent, a data software company. "It's the first year ever in which several billion dollar companies were founded by women."

In 2019, there are already 14 female-founded unicorns including Away, Glossier and Rent The Runway. Small numbers, big leap. Two years ago, there were only four.

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At the beginning of the year, Narkhede's company Confluent was valued at $2.5 billion.

"Venture capitalists are mostly pattern matchers," she said. "In the past they used to just bet on young white men because that's what succeeded. Now they're betting on women and other underrepresented minorities."

Narkhede says it's important to start a dialogue around what's holding people back.

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"I think it's about a leak in the pipeline, it's this inability to cross the credibility chasm, at some point you get tired of fighting the fight," she said. "You need the grit to cross what I call the credibility chasm, it's this phenomenon where underrepresented minorities go from being marginalized, doubted, early on in their careers, until we prove people wrong several times and get celebrated for our rise."

Narkhede says she tries as much as possible to lead the charge on celebrating that rise, as early as possible. Whether it's how she runs her meetings or her work with FemaleFounders.org or what she calls a "whisper network" of women leaders that she fosters, she considers it a great responsibility to bring more women and other underrepresented groups into leadership positions.

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"When you're sort of breaking ceilings and introducing new change, someone has to go up there and show other women, that you're almost close," she said.

We asked for the one piece of advice she would give anyone who feels like an outsider. Her advice is, "There is a lot of opportunity but develop the grit to fight the good fight."

Oh and please don't call her a "female executive." Executive will do just fine.

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