What Founders Can Do

Founders cannot and should not be expected to solve all of these problems. But change can begin within your company. Look closely at your behavior and your company policies, and listen closely to those you work with—and to those not yet on your team. Sexism and racism are pervasive social systems that affect beliefs and cultural norms, not just a matter of “a few bad apples.” You’ll need to commit to having open, honest conversations with people at your company in an ongoing manner. In addition to helpful statistics and demographic data, DreamHost’s “The State of Women in Tech 2019” provides guidance for founders and investors who want to make their companies or firms equitable, inclusive, and able to sustain diversity. In 2016, TechCrunch drew up a template sexual harassment policy for investors and founders, which can help you start a conversation with your investors and understand where potential risks lie.

danger Do not call lack of diversity at your startup a “pipeline problem.” This theory, which posits that there simply aren’t enough interested and/or qualified members of underrepresented groups available to hire, is not accurate. More commonly, people from these groups leave tech at a higher rate due to discrimination, harassment, and an unwelcoming environment.

Many community networks are using social media to grow their ranks and support women founders and founders of color in starting their businesses and raising money. Organizations like Latino Startup Alliance, Latinas in STEM, Black Founders, and many more exist to help connect and advance minority founders, and Twitter hashtags like #LatinaGeeks and #BlackTechTwitter can be a great way to connect and learn. The Case Foundation provides an excellent list of organizations promoting diversity in startups to follow on Twitter. You can follow them all with just one click.

Silicon Valley lawyer Bärí A. Williams reminds company leaders that diversity on their teams can help prevent missteps in funding, in which an investor’s priorities do not match up with your company’s mission—“All money ain’t good money,” she wisely writes. Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara has a similar message, and recommends interviewing other founders before making a deal with investors they worked with, to avoid what we might call “bad capital.” If you are a founder underrepresented in the startup and venture community, you can visit Creating a Target List of Investors for a list of resources to help you find VCs who invest in underrepresented founders and/or those who build for underserved communities. Founders who want to help change the system for the better should raise their expectations as well as money. Founders and investors must work together to innovate the business of venture capital and create a more equitable environment for all.

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