Being in the Minority

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to a couple of tech events that were sparsely populated by straight white men.

Yeah, can you believe it?

One was a careers panel aimed at women in tech held at Flatiron School and the other was Alterconf. The goal of Alterconf is to provide safe opportunities and spaces for marginalized people in tech and those who support them by highlighting positive initiatives of local community members.

I think there might have been more trans and gender fluid people in the room at Alterconf than there were straight white men. That’s not something one experiences in tech that often.

At each event, I felt my behavior change.

Normally, when you’re a VC, lots of people are coming up to you, asking your opinion on things — you cannot help but feel a sense of belonging in the room. You’re supposed to be there and there’s an unmistakeable power dynamic in the room. It’s all too easy to get a sense of self-importance and to feel like you have a disproportionate influence on the room.

I didn’t feel that way at either event. I didn’t feel like I belonged — despite the best efforts of both events to make everyone feel welcome. It wasn’t anything that anyone else did. It was all in my head. By being consciously different than others, I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be there. Unlike other startup events, the dynamic wasn’t set up for me.

It’s undoubtedly a lot closer to how a big chunk of the population feels than I’m normally accustomed to feeling like.

Would I say or do the wrong thing?

VC’s don’t usually worry about saying the wrong things — maybe that’s why we disproportionately seem to have built a reputation for saying the wrong things.

Nor do we ever feel like we don’t have anything to add to a conversation.

In all honestly, that was a pretty good thing. Feeling uncomfortable because you’re in unfamiliar surroundings is a great learning experience. It makes you hyper aware of everyone around you. You can’t generalize people so easily and you don’t have easy language and anecdotes to fall back on. You have to treat everyone as an individual, listen, and be really thoughtful about what you share and how you share it.

Just yesterday, I was speaking to a founder who told me that if they raised a seed round, they’d hire “another guy or two on the tech team.”

“Engineers, not guys.”

“Huh?”

“They might not be guys…the best people for the job.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me. Just be conscious of it.”

I probably would have let that go had I not been to these events and I’m glad I went. I’ll never know exactly what it’s like to be a marginalized person — but situations like this help make life more relatable to a wider group of people.

Plus, from a pure business perspective, if you’re not going to stray outside the communities that hold the most power and influence, you’re going to miss out on opportunities and talent from at least half the community, if not more.

The future will look less and less like me than ever before.

There’s less competition in these spaces and where there is great talent, it’s my job as a “first check” investor and part time recruiter for my portfolio to be where other investors might not be.