Held on September 18 in Santa Monica, California, the Diversity and Inclusion Town Hall was attended by 150 people—early stage startup people, employees from larger tech companies, and investors representing most of LA’s venture funds.
What emerged from the event, which included panel discussions and audience participation, plus a networking mixer, was that the topic is relevant at all levels and in all parts of our industry. Investors, entrepreneurs, enterprise CEOs and their team members each have different experiences, responsibilities and action items.
What is also clear is that there is a groundswell of energy for change in Los Angeles.
Here is a summary of key ideas, action items, tools and further reading that came out of the event:
- Freda Kapor Klein, Partner at Kapor Capital
- Arlan Hamilton, Founder & Managing Partner at Backstage Capital
- Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO of Brava Investments
- Marlon Nichols, Managing Partner of Cross Culture Ventures
- The data on markets serving women and POC in this country should be compelling enough on its own.
- Unfortunately, it is a tough time as there are low numbers of women and POC writing checks, but the numbers are increasing. Many new female led funds launched in last 12 months and more coming.
- Pay attention to new happenings that have the potential to disrupt traditional VC, like token offerings/ICOs (though proceed w caution as regulation will come)
- There is no silver bullet for women and POC right now; seek out HNW individuals and people who align with your core vision and values
- As you gain funding, you can become a deal flow source for your investors to meet more diverse founders
- Build your support network: Work together across companies for support and sharing resources. Meet face to face in regular intervals to discuss what’s working and what isn’t
- Founders can include anti-sexual harassment clauses in their voting agreements, as Kristina Bergman of Integris Software has done.
While we did not get into regulation/policy with regards to bad behavior, it’s important to note that VC is an industry that can easily breed bad behavior as the job mixes money and power with very limited rules or accountability. Some notes and action items:
- VCs are missing out on markets they don’t understand by not diversifying teams
- VCs must do unconscious bias training, but that will not move the needle as fast as diversifying their teams
- VCs should review/amend bylaws for punishment/firing for bad behavior.
- LPs must do more diligence on partners and add behavior expectations/punishments into LP agreements.
- VCs can implement a Founders Commitment like Kapor Capital, with clear expectations about how the companies are expected to pursue D&I as part of the fabric of their companies.
- If you have board seats, what swift actions are you taking to remove senior teams exhibiting bad behavior?
- Regulation of the industry with rules akin to employment law will be key
- We must re-examine the use of non-disparagement agreements.
HIRING & RETENTION
In order to tackle bias in the hiring process, we all must examine every step – from sourcing to how you write job descriptions to how you review job applications – to how you ask questions and review answers. Additionally, compensation and performance management structures must be examined for bias.
Freada presented a portion of the Tech Leavers Study (the recommendations section at the end is a MUST READ).
The common debate is whether it’s a pipeline problem vs. tech culture problem – the answer is it’s both.
Tech Leavers study of 2000 engineers:
- Unfairness drives turnover – 37% stated as reason for leaving
- As a cause of turnover, unfairness (in management practices, stereotyping, unwanted sexual attention, bullying) costs billions each year.
- Experiences differ dramatically between groups – 78% of tech leavers reported experiencing unfair behavior, 1 in 10 women sexual harassment (unwanted sexual attention rate almost twice as high in tech industry as other industries), and underrepresented women reported much higher rates of being passed over for promotion.
- D&I initiatives can improve culture and reduce turnover, but the quality and substance of those initiatives really matter.
The two actions that make the most statistically significant difference in retention/inclusion as actions on their own:
- Setting explicit diversity goals
- Under-represented employee referral bonuses
There are some excellent tools for stripping away bias inside the hiring process that were mentioned during the discussion, each with its own approach:
Also, there are tons more resources at Project Include.
We all have a great deal of work to do.
Our hope is that by bringing a broad swath of the LA Tech ecosystem together, we helped keep D&I top of mind and provided connections in real life to create support networks and to share action items and progress.
About the Authors
Robyn Ward is a 20-year veteran of the technology startup space. Via her coaching and consulting business, FounderForward, she helps founders with with leadership development, culture & team-building, as well as fundraising strategy and strategic partnerships. Robyn also teaches Entrepreneurship at USC and is a champion of diversity and equality in the technology industry.
Emily Best is CEO and founder of Seed&Spark, a new model for entertainment that combines the convenience and awesomeness of subscription streaming for audiences with the career-building power of crowdfunding for creators.