Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about diversity, equity and inclusion (eg: “Help! I just realized the panel I organized is all white men. Any suggestions about what I should do about it?” or “Looks like we’re not getting very diverse applications for our open call. Why is this happening?”). I’ve responded individually to these requests in the past, but given New Media Ventures’ commitment to transparency, I see an opportunity to share our observations and strategies more broadly with the field. We’re always looking to grow and know we have more evolving to do, so let us know how you have addressed issues of inclusion in your own work.
Before I dive in, I want to say there are no silver bullet solutions. In a society that systematically excludes and marginalizes, bringing new voices to the table requires a deep commitment to relationship building. It takes work. It takes time. It takes trust. And it is totally worth it, resulting in better decision making, better products and better performance.
At our own firm, we believe that those most impacted by an issue are the best suited to imagine and build its solution. Uplifting underrepresented voices isn’t simply about doing what’s right (it is), it’s about doing what works. This means not only including, but centering and prioritizing founders with relevant lived experiences, emphasizing representative boards and committees, and pushing ourselves and the field to be more empathetic, think bigger, and do better.
Diverse portfolio = diverse applicant pool
Your current portfolio is the best reflection of your strategy and intention as an investor. In order to attract a diverse applicant pool, you have to have a diverse portfolio. Founders you’ve already invested in often provide the best referrals to other entrepreneurs. So if you’re wondering why your applicant pool is not diverse, take a look at your current portfolio. If there are no women on your portfolio page, why would women founders pitch you? If you don’t invest in black founders, why should black founders believe that you’re an investor that could add value to their companies?
Representative decision makers & advisors
Those with decision-making power – boards, advisors, committees – should be representative of the folks you want to reach. This not only expands your ability to reach different founders, but also ensures that projects are being evaluated by the right set of stakeholders. For example, an investment committee made up of only white people may not truly understand the scope and impact of a startup focused on interrupting police violence in communities of color. Creating explicit opportunities for underrepresented voices in positions of power, like screening committees and boards, demonstrates that your commitment to diversity isn’t just lip service – and it can also help avoid the dreaded groupthink that often emerges in homogenous groups. So take a look at who is making the decisions in your institution and be prepared to make a change if it doesn’t line up with your goals.
Call it like it is and say WHY
Ask yourself (and your firm) why more diversity is good for you, your firm, and the world at large? Take it one step further and share these values from the jump. Are you specifically looking to invest in women of color? Say that, say why, and partner with organizations or investors that are already explicitly supporting their leadership. Saying specifically who you want at the table might seem overly “politically correct” (and haven’t we gotten past that?), but it actually signals your commitment and makes clear that diverse voices are not just welcome, but encouraged to participate.
Start now — everything counts!
Are you hiring for a new position? Try using a blind hiring process. Want to find entrepreneurs you don’t already know? Try implementing creative incentives and opportunities for folks to get involved. Have you been asked to participate on a conference panel? Ask who else is on the panel and if possible, suggest someone with less access to take your spot. Is someone referring you only to startups led by men? Respond with gratitude for the referral and say you are specifically looking for underrepresented founders.
In our own journey, we’ve learned a ton from colleagues in the space that have worked to center equity in their own work. If you’re interested in diving deeper, check out these articles that have informed our thinking (and let us know your favorite resources!):
- Invested Impact’s take on the Knight Foundation’s efforts to diversify their investments
- How Grantmakers for Effective Organizations is reimagining ‘effectiveness’
- Village Capital’s efforts to build a more inclusive pipeline
- Sarah Milstein’s advice on Putting an End to Conferences Dominated by White Men
- How to cultivate an inclusive work culture by Janice Burch at Basecamp
- Ed Yong on what he did to address gender imbalance in his reporting
By seeking out diverse perspectives, lifting up underrepresented leaders, and incorporating an equity lens into even (seemingly) small decisions, your organization will be stronger, more resilient, and reflective of the better world we’re working to build.
Join the conversation on Medium and spread the word:
“We believe that those most impacted by an issue are the best suited to imagine & build its solution.” That’s why @newmediaventure continues to center inclusion as a critical component of their work. Check out their latest: http://bit.ly/2IlkxdZ