If you told me at the start of 2018 that by September I’d find myself sitting in the London Mayor’s office at City Hall recommending policy changes for greater tech inclusion I would have said, “I wish!” And yet last Wednesday, alongside 25 other black women founders in London tech’s scene, I sat at a roundtable discussion with Deputy Mayor of London Rajesh Agrawal, Leap and London & Partners.
Our objective? To outline actions to ensure black women entrepreneurs are not excluded from initiatives that support startups and scale ups in London. The purpose of this article is to share the progress on our efforts and enlighten you on how we were able to mobilise to create change. I hope it will inspire you to take action, too.
Mobilising on social media
So how did we end up talking to key stakeholders in our government? It started with our open letter to Mayor Sadiq Khan. The letter itself was sparked by Deborah Okenla, founder of YSYS and her #WhereAreTheFaces campaign. Having seen the social media campaign #BehindEveryGreatCity Deborah was devastated to note the absence of black women founders in photos. She decided to do something about it — as a community builder she started rallying a group of individuals around the cause. It worked. Deborah spoke to her friends and contacts across London’s startup community, turning a number of IRL conversations to a WhatsApp group then a shared Google document and finally the letter we posted on Medium.
Engaging in solution oriented dialogue
Once our letter was out in the public it started getting hundreds of retweets and shares across social media. As a result, the Mayor’s Office immediately started a dialogue. Janet Doyle — who organised the Silicon Valley trade mission featured in the #BehindEveryGreat City campaign — took the lead in organising a meeting with Deborah and me. We used the meeting to better understand the selection process for programmes like trade missions, and offered suggestions on how more black women can be included in the cohorts going forward. Our objectives were simple — to listen closely to the insights Janet was sharing and to be focused on solutions when asked questions. The next challenge was how to share our solutions with more change makers so progress wouldn’t be delayed.
LEAP roundtable at City Hall — September 5th, 2018
Natalie Campbell sits on the board of Leap and has always been a passionate supporter of black women founders and greater inclusion in tech. Following the momentum of the letter and our conversation with Janet Doyle of London & Partners, she arranged for us to join a roundtable discussion in City Hall to sit face to face with policy makers and suggest what actions should be taken to include more black women founders. She reminded us to stay focused on actions from the outset of the meeting and we were able to use our time to crowdsource solutions and next steps based on our own experiences and data gathered from our communities.
Early results and next steps
We will meet again at City Hall in six months time to discuss which of the actions proposed are making the most impact. It will be another action-oriented conversation to continue making progress on the inclusion front. We are already seeing results — Kike from our group had her startup accepted into London & Partners growth programme. Janet and her team are sharing the opportunities in the communities we recommended. The momentum that started with our open letter shows no signs of slowing down. We will measure success by the number of black women founders participating in startup and scale up programs and accessing the huge pots of capital the government has made available. We plan to keep you updated as the journey continues.
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Shoutout to all the women below who contributed to the open letter and attended the City Hall roundtable. You can follow them on Twitter by clicking their name.