Dear Silicon Valley: Change is Coming

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem.

In a recent article in The New York Times, more than two dozen women shared their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Several reports about people of color leaving tech in droves because of unfair treatment.

This isn’t a new problem nor is it a problem only found in the tech industry. But for a culture that holds itself in such a high regard (believing everything it creates makes the world a better place), it is dangerous to simply dismiss our indiscretions as ‘business as usual’.

We can agree that those who create a toxic work culture should be held accountable. Their behavior isn’t normal, and the resulting impact on our industry certainly isn’t acceptable. But we cannot point our fingers at just these individuals. These are our collective indiscretions.

Not only have we allowed biased and exclusionary practices to be normalized, we have allowed them to continue and in some cases, be rewarded. We’ve seen the examples of leaders issuing a PR-approved mea culpa, getting a slap on the wrist, and then — after some period of time where we all forget their past recklessness — they are offered promotions, money, or more power. These leaders then become investors who place bets on entrepreneurs that mirror their own backgrounds. And thus the bro-culture cycle continues.

Change does not come from internal investigations and teary-eyed apologies. The people in power will hold onto their advantages unless they are compelled by an outside force to give them up.
-Kate Knibbs, The Ringer

How do we break the cycle?

First, we need to define what we want to fix. We are talking about many problems that need solutions when we discuss diversity and inclusion in tech and the startup ecosystem of Silicon Valley. For instance, work is needed to update our hiring practices and recognize our implicit biases, improve our processes of sourcing candidates, train our leaders on building empowering workplace cultures, etc.

But ultimately, I believe one of the most impactful things we can do is support and promote entrepreneurs that don’t have a privileged platform. The Silicon Valley dream is based on the entrepreneurial drive that disrupts entire industries, changes the ways in which we live, and yes — makes the world a better place.

This is the core reason my co-founders and I created Transparent Collective. Transparent Collective is a nonprofit that is developing an ecosystem where a new generation of fresh, talented, but overlooked and underrepresented entrepreneurs can flourish. We are building a network of seasoned founders, investors, and mentors who are determined to provide talented entrepreneurs the education and resources they need to create successful tech companies.

Access to the right capital and connections can make or break fledgling startups. One of our key focus areas is to ensure Transparent Collective startups are introduced to the right venture capitalists. Investors can have a massive influence on startups because they decide which companies to fund (thereby ensuring a period of survival), set some of the company culture by strongly suggesting senior management and board members, and can push for accountability measures.

We have more work to do

We started Transparent Collective in 2016 and since then we’ve held 3 events and showcased over 15 startups to potential investors with the help of our amazing mentors (including Andrea Barrica, Hiten Shah, Marie Prokopets, Jorge Davy-Mendez, Chris Lyons) and sponsors (WSGR, Kapor Center, IBM, Microsoft). Within weeks of flying in these entrepreneurs from all over the U.S. and introducing them to partners and investors, many even secured their first round of financing!

Some of the Transparent Collective companies pitching at our Startup Showcase events

But there’s still more to do. Despite all of the proven financial and organizational advantages for company diversity, only 2.19% of venture capital funding in 2016 went to female-founded companies. Less than 1% went companies with black founders. That meager number drops even further to .02% when we talk about black women.

A Bloomberg article published earlier this year put those percentages into real dollars. The average tech startup founded by a black woman raises less than $40K while a failed tech startup founded by a white man raises more than $1M before shutting down.

If we can influence these types of investments and opportunities for founders, we can make lasting foundational changes. Tech and startups have been homogeneous for long enough.

This was amazing, we have to keep doing this. I have never been in a room full of people doing great things who look just like me!
-Sean Green, CEO of Arternal

If you’d like to help support the collective, join our mailing list. We’ll keep you updated on our next event, being held in early September in San Francisco. You can also share our message with an early-stage entrepreneur you think we should have at our next Startup Showcase.

Thank you to The Heartstrings Project for this nifty widget!