Understatement: there’s a vast inclusivity gap in the startup world. Tech and startup cultures are known for their longstanding exclusivity, where the majority of founders and VCs are white men, and females and minorities are extremely underrepresented.
Since Sultan Ventures started, we’ve been all about equity and access for entrepreneurs— access to opportunities, access to capital. Over the past decade we’ve created new onramps to entrepreneurship for women and minorities, and we’re proud to say we’re now seeing more diversity in our own programs and in the innovation ecosystem in general. Our XLR8HI classes feature info sessions and recruitment campaigns focused on engaging women, and we offer scholarships for women and ethnic minorities. As a result of these efforts, 80% of our XLR8HI workshop participants are from under-represented groups (women or non-caucasian). In recent years, women have made up more than 50% of our XLR8UH team, and we’ve further championed women entrepreneurs by hosting events like InnovateHER. In 2016 we joined President Obama’s Diversify Access to Capital Pledge to increase access to capital for science and tech entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. As investors, we also created an investment model to support small businesses, which are increasingly started by women and minority founders.
Even with these major strides, there’s still so much work to be done to create a more inclusive startup community. We believe closing the gap starts with having an open dialogue — so we did just that with Season 2 of The Startup Catalyst Podcast, focused entirely on the topic of inclusivity. We talked to 12 founders and investors from underrepresented groups, all of whom broke through industry barriers to find success against the odds. Here’s what this group of ultra-inspiring role models had to say about how to walk the inclusivity talk.
5 ways to promote inclusivity in your daily work life:
1. Make inclusivity a personal policy and offer inclusive solutions for exclusionary situations.
Samson Williams, Co-Founder & Partner at Axes and Eggs
I understand that people of color particularly women of color face great challenges. So I make a point of: I don’t speak on panels that don’t have women. And if you don’t have women on your panel, don’t worry about it, I will bring you one.
2. Continually examine your mindset and actions and aim for constant improvement.
Donavan Kealoha, Director at Startup Capital Ventures
Ask questions about whether or not your actions are continuing to be aligned with your values, whether the mindset you’ve adopted to effectuate change is still intact. It’s this idea of every day working on yourself to improve yourself. If you’ve got that awareness, you’re incrementally making changes, but over time that becomes compounded… and as a result you become a better change agent as an individual. And the output of that is then you…bring more diversity into whatever space that you’re in.
3. Commit to being uncomfortable in order to move the needle.
Rodney Sampson, Founder of Opportunity Hub
Being born and raised in Atlanta and looking at how our civil rights movement translated to an economic rights movement for an accelerated period of time, a lot of it is just common sense, and a lot of it is just being willing to be uncomfortable and actually going to connect with other people. Black people in America have always had to figure out how to assimilate into white culture in order to just survive, many times for their lives. So, if we can learn it, other folks can learn it, too.
4. Don’t just let it slide. Be your own advocate when you encounter discrimination.
Julie Lenzer, Co-Director of UM Ventures
“What is she doing here?” And I looked at him, and I said, “I’m here to explain to you why this design that you have here is not going to work.” He just kind of looked at me, and I just started talking. It’s funny because I don’t know where that confidence came from. I guess I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.
5. Instead of trying to make current systems more inclusive, create new systems.
Elizabeth Gore, President of Alice
Women have entered the marketplace and ecosystems have not caught up yet. So let’s take venture and banking. The decisions are still being made primarily by non-inclusive teams on where that money is going, while the people actually building companies, building products, are increasingly women. Once you start looking at things catching up with the majority of women leading business, it’s gonna have to come around at some point. My philosophy is maybe we don’t back into these old systems, maybe we create new ones. What are new formulas, new solutions, new ways to do business, new ways to access capital? The irony about innovation is that it has not innovated in a long time.
Interested in collaborating with Sultan Ventures to help #CloseTheGap and drive inclusivity in our community? Get in touch with us here.