There aren't a lot of jobs for graduates in venture capital firms. So when I managed to get one, I intended to do everything I could to fit in and excel.
One week in to my new job, something occurred to me: There wasn't a single woman on the board of this company. I worked out that the odds of this happening by chance alone were one in 8192. In fact across the whole firm there were no full time female employees
In my lunch break I Googled the big venture capital groups across Australia. Only 22 per cent of the industry was female. But my firm was even worse and nowhere near the paltry industry average.
Later that day I was in the elevator with a senior member and figured I'd raise the issue. What my superior said next was so explicitly deliberate, it made me feel conflicted the whole time I worked there.
He said that in his experience, women create a workplace culture of malicious gossip and covert animosity that prevents a team from working properly. He named a woman with whom he had previously worked and chronicled each of her professional shortcomings in exquisite detail.
Women just weren't worth the hassle in his view, and so the company had chosen to fill the board with men.
I couldn't believe his candidness. I guess that I was expecting an explanation which pointed towards latent, unconscious biases but this wasn't just a subliminal prejudice, it was unofficial company policy.
Conscious not to overstep the mark one week in to my a new job, I apologetically whispered back that this woman wasn't good at her job because she wasn't good at her job. She's not bad at her job because she is a woman.
My superior retorted that she is bad at her job and the only reason that she has been able to keep her job has been because she is a woman.
I reluctantly forced that conversation to the back of my mind. But the topic was brought up again a few months later at a company lunch when the most senior person in the company casually announced across the table that he prefers not to hire women, not only because their menstrual cycle "makes them unpredictable," but because in his experience their output is only reliable when they are single.
They were sentiments that I couldn't "unhear".
I sometimes wished I had never heard them because it gave me a moral dilemma. Should I leave to demonstrate a point to the older generation - If you aren't going to embrace the social progress of modernity, then you won't be able to attract and retain good staff?
The problem is not just with the VC's. The problem also sits with a low voice and a business suit on the other side of table – the start-ups themselves.
The whole time I worked at the firm, I encountered only one start-up with a female founder. The Diana Report from the US showed that start-ups with female chief executives receive only 3 per cent of all venture funding.
This doesn't reflect a bias on the part of VC's, it reflects the fact that women are underrepresented in leadership roles generally. Only 2.4 per cent of CEO's in the ASX 500 are female.
It's now been more than a year since I left the company. I sometimes wonder whether my old workplace just hired another young male who is probably equally as good as I was, meaning that nothing really changed.
Perhaps it is the idealist in me, but I hope that in some way, I helped incentivise employers to foster a fairer workplace.
The truth is that, alone, my actions are meaningless. But I am just one guy in a sea of millions of young people, to whom this stuff actually matters. The older generation that have executed this discrimination for the past several decades will retire soon. And when they do, I am confident that my generation will, hopefully, roll back the bastions of prejudice that tie women down professionally.