Talking about diversity

We hosted our very first Diversity & Inclusion Summit at USV in 2015. It was a little bit scary. For the first time, we planned to convene our portfolio network to talk about building diverse and inclusive teams — and we weren’t sure how it would go.

At the time, I wasn’t even working at USV yet. I was still at Stack Overflow, but I helped then-GM Brittany Laughlin co-create the session and felt a lot of conviction that we get it right. We had several calls and email threads leading up to the summit to talk about what topics we’d like to address and how to encourage thoughtful (not aggressive) participation.

But I think the thing we did best of all was to frame the conversation right from the start. (And by the way — I can’t take any credit for this part.)

At the top of the day, Brittany walked to the front of the room and said that in order for us to have a productive conversation today, we needed a few ground rules. They were:

  1. That the reason we are facilitating this discussion is that we know it’s a good business decision: Diverse teams build better businesses.
  2. That we acknowledge we all come here today with some inherent, unconscious bias of our own.

Following that, Brittany shared with us what was then a relatively novel video of Dr. Brian Welle, head of people analytics of Google, discussing unconscious bias. We watched this as a group and participated in the exercise he shared.

The final thing we discussed as a group was that, given all this, given that we all come in with our bias and that we are all new to this conversation, we needed to be good with each other. To assume good intent first from everybody in the room. To recognize that this summit was a space where we could be thoughtful and help each other learn. If somebody makes a mistake, or says something that is offensive, it’s okay to point this out politely. In fact, it’s important to do so. And while certain topics may stir up emotions, we all needed to keep in mind that that was not the space for criticism or to hash out personal grievances.

If it seems heavy, that’s because it is. But it’s also important to get this right. Or as right as you can. (These conversations are also tricky, and never perfect.) However, setting up these expectations gave ourselves a lot of room to ask questions, to be vulnerable, and to share. Which is something that we continue to do with our portfolio network all the time. We’re trying to get a little bit better at it each time.

Today, we organize monthly D&I roundtable discussions for our USV network, where we encourage employees from our companies to jump in, share best practices, and learn what others are doing. We’re always looking for more ways to foster collaboration and shared ideation across our network. And I really believe this starts with building a trusted environment from day one.

So whether you’re convening founders in your network to talk about diversity or even friends at a book club, think about ways that you can set up that conversation to be as productive as possible. Hopefully it will open up the dialogue for you too and continue to facilitate powerful opportunities for collaboration in the months and years ahead.

And by the way, if you’re interested in learning more about how that very first Diversity Summit went for us at USV, check out Brittany’s blog post on the topic here.