Founders for Change started as a rallying cry among a generation of founders who believe deeply in the power of diversity — not only for their companies but also on their boards and in their cap tables. Since launching in March, the community has grown to 900+ founders representing over $100 billion in capital raised, with more joining every week. The companies range from seed-stage founders to leaders of late-stage and public companies like Dropbox, Lyft, Airbnb, Eventbrite, and Stitch Fix. The founders’ collective voice underscores the desire and demand for change in our industry.
In the hundreds of conversations that we’ve had with founders over the past few months, it became clear that founders have a consistent ethos when it comes to diversity and inclusion within their startups: diverse organizations produce better results, are more competitive in recruiting and keep toxic cultures at bay. However, we’ve seen varying motivations in their drive for diversity on their boards and in their investors. Trevor McFedries, founder of Brud says he is interested in reshaping the way tech looks and so it was “counterintuitive for us to raise money from a bunch of white guys.” Jack Conte, founder of Patreon, shared that he couldn’t fairly pound his fist internally about the importance of D&I and then walk into a board meeting with all white males. Todd Berman of EveryTeam said ‘We are white male founders building a collaboration product, so paying attention to diversity out of the gate was incredibly important. Having diverse investors on our cap table and in our network has enabled us to build a better product.’
When the Founders for Change movement went live, hundreds of founders went public with their commitment, creating an energetic social media moment. The first founders inspired other founders to join, learn, debate, and be inspired and the community has grown to nearly 1,000 founders. VC firms saw the momentum of this ‘new generation’ of founders and the importance they placed on the diversity of firms. As the core customer of the VC community, many firms realized they needed to diversify to stay competitive. Since March, top-tier firms such as Andreessen Horowitz (hired three!), Greylock, Bain, Felicis, Menlo and Redpoint have hired women partners and many others are following suit.
Founders’ commitment to diversity is steadfast and clear. However, most are challenged with the best way to achieve it. Founders are asking for help and guidance with the HOW. So, in August, we hosted over 80 founders at the first ever Founders for Change Diversity + Inclusion Summit to share and discuss strategies, tactics, and practices to help translate their commitment into change. Leaders like Reid Hoffman, Julia Hartz, Fern Mandelbaum, Kim Scott, Tyi McCray, and Aubrey Blanche shared their wisdom with the group and we all left energized and better-equipped to put their commitments into practice.
Some “aha moments” attending founders shared from the day included:
- Diversity and inclusion have to come from the top. If an organization’s board and leadership team is homogenous, it is much more challenging to build diversity into the rest of the organization.
- Diversity without inclusion does not work. People need to feel that they belong to stay. And people who belong recruit others to join.
- Great cultures are created consciously. Your company will have a culture. The question is, do you want to shape those beliefs and values or let them get formed by accident?
- Diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a destination. You are constantly on a path of building and maintaining a diverse and inclusive organization. It is not a ‘set it and forget it’ activity.
- Set goals and measure against them. Diversifying your organization takes a concerted effort and like all critical goals, must be measured to be successful.
- Change the paradigm around talent and “fit”. Look at the criteria you’re using for hiring and ask: Is this preventing diverse talent from even having a shot? Aim to hire people who add to your company’s culture, not who just fit within it.
The Founders for Change community sharing techniques and wisdom will move us exponentially faster towards the goal than any of us can do on our own. Just seven months after the launch of Founders for Change, this community is just getting started. We’ve begun a journey together — one we know will push us further into the future we crave. All founders are welcome to learn more and join the movement HERE. More to come.