Silicon Valley is churning out new paper millionaires. Nearly all are men

Uber IPO
Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, third from left in front row, and guests ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on May 10.
(Xinhua / TNS)

With companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., Slack Technologies Inc. and Pinterest Inc. going public this year, the question has been: How many millionaires will Silicon Valley mint? What’s not being asked is how much of that new wealth will go to women.

The answer, according to a new study released last week, is: not much. Carta, an equity management platform, crunched data from more than 300,000 employees at 10,000-plus companies, and found 4 in 5 paper millionaires are men.

The jobs that land the biggest equity packages tend to be held by men in C-suite roles, said Emily Kramer, Carta’s vice president of marketing. “As wealth goes up, the percentage of millionaires who are women go down because they are not CEOs, CFOs or founders,” she said.

Chief marketing officers, the most common executive role held by women, have the lowest median equity award, 39% less than that of chief financial officers, who tend to get the most generous packages after chief executives.


Among the world’s 500 richest people, there are just two female technology billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. MacKenzie Bezos, a major shareholder of Inc., is worth $36 billion, and Zhou Qunfei, founder of Lens Technology, is worth $5.9 billion. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who is not in the top 500, has a net worth of $2.1 billion.

Carta last year for the first time identified an “equity gap,” finding women in Silicon Valley held 47 cents of equity for every dollar of equity men held. Carta this year found a slight improvement: Women hold 49 cents for every dollar in stock options men do, a 2 percentage point increase from last year. Women make up more than a third of all employees but hold only 20% of equity wealth, the study finds.

Although most equity ends up being worth nothing, when a start-up goes public or gets acquired, stock grants can result in a big payday, creating the next class of angel investors and entrepreneurs. And even with underwhelming valuations from tech companies this year, underrepresented employees are getting the “short end of the stick” and become “collateral damage,” said Henry Ward, chief executive of Carta.

The gender equity gap exists for a variety of interconnected reasons. Early employees often get better stock options than those who join later, and younger companies tend to have smaller proportions of women. There’s also a lack of representation on founding teams. Women make up only 13% of all founders in the data pulled by Carta, and female-founded teams got only 2.2% of venture funding last year.


Women also say they don’t know what to ask for during already opaque salary negotiations. One woman who worked for a unicorn start-up, who asked not to be identified to avoid alienating her former employer, said she didn’t know to ask for refresh grants after getting promoted several times. When the company went public, she ended up getting $20,000 (before taxes); she calculates she could’ve been a millionaire.

As WeWork prepared to go public, Trista Kempa, who says she was the 17th employee, said she wasn’t offered options at all. “I was 23, naive, and didn’t know what equity or options were — I certainly didn’t know how much it could impact my financial future,” she tweeted.

WeWork did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company wound up withdrawing its IPO.

Carta offers educational materials that teach women how to negotiate their liquidity preferences and ask for a fair equity offer upfront.


“It’s not a matter of getting in the door,” said Carta’s Kramer, who is also head of Table Stakes, an initiative highlighting the gender gap in equity at venture-backed companies. “It’s about advising employees on how to avoid a WeWork situation.”