Why I’m taking a three-pronged approach to Diversity & Inclusion
Ask any investor or seasoned entrepreneur and they’ll tell you that having a laser-sharp focus is a key ingredient to the success of a startup: turning an idea into reality requires that you pour all your energy into that idea, and any distraction is likely to spell failure.
If this viewpoint were applied to my current work, it would suggest that I have no chance of becoming successful: since the time of my “light-bulb” moment in late 2015, when I first had a vision of leveraging science and technology in support of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), I have created three different entities. First came Aleria, a for-profit Public Benefit Corporation developing a software platform to help companies take the guesswork out of D&I. Next came the Quantitative Studies of Diversity and Inclusion (QSDI) initiative, an academic research center at the City College of New York, which aims to turn D&I into a field of formal academic research. And recently my co-founder and I launched Aleria Research Corporation (ARC), a non-profit whose mission is to demonstrate the value of D&I and foster greater inclusion and equality across our society through charitable scientific research.
Superficially, this may seem like we are unfocused and diluted. However, this three-pronged approach is actually a carefully orchestrated plan, rooted in my combined 30 years of academic, entrepreneurial and business experience, to create an ecosystem that will drive significant and sustainable change.
To understand this, it’s important to start with some important considerations. First, my overarching goal is to make the world a more inclusive and more equitable place. My colleagues and I see an opportunity to make changes that will move the needle significantly on inclusion and diversity, and to do so in a sustainable way. While it is not the primary motivation for doing this work, we also see an enormous business opportunity.
I also want to underscore a unique aspect of our work: the majority of existing D&I initiatives are designed to target the populations that are impacted negatively by the lack of inclusion in our society. For instance, there are organizations providing funding to educate members of underrepresented minorities; or establishing re-entry programs for women; or creating funds that invest in LGBTQ founders. In contrast, our goal is to target the sources of exclusion and inequality, i.e., members of the dominant segments of our society who, purposefully or accidentally, create and perpetuate these problems. Put bluntly, our targets are primarily white men. If we want to see tangible change, we need to convince those individuals who range from skeptics, to those who support D&I in theory but who don’t know what to do in practice.
In order to convince these people, we need to establish tangible measures of success, and try to avoid the sort of anecdotal, qualitative narrative that is often used as an indication of success in the non-profit sector. This is where the quantitative nature of our approach is so important: the agnostics and the skeptics will be much easier to persuade if we can prove that being more inclusive can also make them more money.
Our three-pronged approach was designed to maximize the potential impact on our society: a software company alone would not have the credibility of an academic research center, nor would it have the bandwidth to pursue custom research projects; an academic center alone would not have the capacity to develop and deploy solutions in the short term, nor could it execute applied research projects with the speed demanded by corporations; and a non-profit on its own could neither develop commercial software, nor could it perform scientific research with the depth and rigor of an academic institution. But together, these three entities form a stable base for end-to-end, sustainable solutions that can convince the skeptics and move the needle for everyone.
In a world that values narrow specialization, I fancy myself a sort of Renaissance Man, whose gray hair reflects decades of broad experience and accumulated knowledge across an unusually wide range of disciplines. I have been a tenured professor and a serial entrepreneur. I have done projects for some of the largest corporations in the world, for government agencies, foundations, and academic institutions. I understand the strengths and limitations of each type of entity, and how to create synergies between them. And I have been fortunate to align myself with an amazing core team that helps fill the gaps in my skillset.
But we can’t do this alone. We need help from those who share our values and who want to make an impact. Whether you help us find the next business opportunity, join our ARC Advisory Board, or make a donation, your support will increase the probability of success of all of our ventures. By the same token, joining us on this adventure will empower you to use your resources to support and strengthen a series of meaningful initiatives that will have significant and lasting impact on society.
With your support, we can really move the needle on diversity and encourage widespread adoption of the positive mindset that will ultimately drive our society toward greater inclusion and equality.
If you care about these issues, but don’t have the time to be involved actively, there are many simple things you can do: share this story on your social networks; subscribe to our weekly newsletter; make a tax-deductible donation to support ARC or to QSDI; introduce us to people in your network who you think would enjoy supporting our mission.