This article was originally published on Ozy here, and written by Lauren Cocking
It’s December 2016, and venture capital investor Samara Mejía Hernández tries her hand at op-ed writing with a blog post on LinkedIn. Titled “Why Your Boss Is Still a White Guy,” she takes the tech industry, and particularly the VC world, to task for its stunning lack of diversity — only 2 percent of venture capital-backed startups have women-only boards, while just 1 percent of VC funding goes to people of color, according to First Round Capital’s 2016 State of Startups report. Combining data-based reasoning with cutting asides like “apparently being born without a Y chromosome makes you a better notetaker. Still waiting on the peer-reviewed study,” the post goes viral within 24 hours.
The vitriolic backlash hits just as fast. “I was just trying to write the facts,” Mejía Hernández tells me over Skype, her voice tinged with disbelief as she recounts people taking the opportunity to be “racist just to be racist.” When her post started “becoming a platform for hate,” she took it down.
Understandably, she’s been flying lower under the radar — without slowing down — ever since. Instead, she’s carved out space in a hectic schedule to offer herself as a mentor for underrepresented groups in the VC industry, while “counting the women I’ve gotten into venture.” She also helped start the Latinx Founders Collective through her partnership with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, is part of the leadership council for Women Tech Founders, and serves on the (once all-White, all-male) board of Communities in Schools of Chicago, where she’s working to get more underrepresented groups into STEM education.
Reading what this 34-year-old has accomplished can feel like a typical financier-turned-venture-capitalist fairy tale: With an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern, Mejía Hernández spent eight years at Goldman Sachs before becoming an early-stage VC investor, specializing in tech startups, at Chicago-based MATH Venture Partners (she was promoted to principal after two years).
Yet her “once upon a time” opens very differently. Born in Cuernavaca, a city outside Mexico’s capital, she moved with her two sisters and parents to Chicago as a 6-year-old. When (at first) English failed her, she was able to excel in math, she recalls. “Numbers are a universal language.” An immigrant, a woman, a Latina — Mejía Hernández’s venture capital success story is anything but typical. And it would take until she reached adulthood for her to realize that diversity — her diversity — is an asset “to any organization, any group, any family.”