Diversity Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word
One thing I’ve observed in the tech industry recently is diversity becoming a word that has some negative connotations. If you put the word diversity in your headline on LinkedIn or Medium, you may not get as many views from VCs, executives or tech founders. If you talk about diversity, many persons hearing the conversation or reading the article internally thinks about the one female or African American on their team or the Hispanic or Asian guy they recently hired and files the entire conversation or writeup under, “not really intended for me.”
Companies hire a director for diversity and inclusion or do a training for manager-level employees after reading an article in Harvard Business Review, their executives and investors share the press hits about diversity efforts they actually know very little about beyond a couple bullet points, and then much of the activity becomes siloed to women and ethnic minorities of those same companies who most likely do all the reading of diversity-related stories and leading of diversity-oriented conversations at the workplace.
There is a plethora of data indicating more diverse teams and companies accomplish more and have stronger financial performance, and yet many companies and executives remain reticent to act on this information unless they’re scoring points by speaking on a panel or sharing an article on Twitter. I see it far too often, and at times it does more harm than good by allowing those very people to believe reading an article and making a single hire of an African-American vice president or investment in a female-led startup was true progress.
As for me, diversity is truly the seed that has produced the most fruit in my life.
One of the things I am most proud of is not only that my startup Localeur has gathered hands-down the best collection of angel investors for a pre-Series A startup in Austin, but that its also the most diverse group of investors I’ve seen for an early-stage startup. With such a universal area of interest as travel and supporting locally-owned businesses, I’m not at all surprised we’ve been able to build a broad collection of people together to support our mission.
Everyone from executives at Facebook and the producer of Austin City Limits to a well-known DJ, a fashion industry influencer, and graphic designers to former execs at FedEx and UT-Austin. My first board director is a leading women in tech, my lead investor leads a diverse, international team at Facebook, and one of my investors is Beyonce’s manager. I feel like the only way to top that is if I got the whole cast of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show to invest. We have half a dozen heterosexual married couples as investors along with both gay and lesbian investors. We have millennials as advisers and people over 60; white men and Black women. Folks in Austin along with Atlanta, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Dallas, DC, Denver, Houston, LA, Memphis, New York, and Silicon Valley.
I truly want to meet the founder(s) who has a more ethnically, geographically, professionally and socio-economically diverse investor roster than I do right now. This is a great source of pride for me as a first-time tech startup founder. As a company, Localeur has so many more milestones ahead (and challenges), but I know without a doubt that diversity on our team — both advisors and staff — will be one of the things that gets us past those hurdles to reach our potential.
When I see a founder’s “About Us” page and it’s all people of the same race or gender or college or professional background, I think to myself “their product must have a very small audience or use-case.” Truth is, if you are building a product or company in 2016 and beyond that is eventually going to be intended for a large audience (not to mention if you’re trying to change the world), diversity is something that I believe should be a foundational layer to success.
On a personal level, I know and follow a lot of tech startup founders, and when I see someone’s timeline, wedding photos or Instagram, what I’m looking for isn’t just laughs, trips, startup milestones and likes. I’m looking at whether or not people are surrounding themselves with a diverse set of people, perspectives and information. These different perspectives become building blocks for growing a product and community, as I’ve realized in Localeur reaching its first million users and securing our first $1.6 million in funding.
So if you’re reading this and find yourself hanging out with the same types of people, hiring and investing people with similar ethnic, professional and socio-economic backgrounds, here’s my advice: try something new, take a trip and meet some strangers, talk to other founders, executives and investors who have more diverse teams and portfolios, and even ask your friends to take you to their next work happy hour, social function or networking event. Reading books, essays and articles written by people who don’t look like you is always a good start too, as reading forms ideas and opinions, and being of the opinion that diversity is important in your company is a great idea.