#KnowYourData Campaign: A Call to Action for Startups and VC’s to Collect Diversity Data

Published in
7 min readSep 30, 2020


Inspired by #PullUpOrShutUp, a grassroots campaign created by Sharon Chuter, who challenged beauty brands to release the exact number of black employees at their companies, the YSYS Community Advocates are launching the #KnowYourData campaign calling on the UK startup and VC ecosystem to commit to collecting diversity data of their employees and investees.

As a result of the tragic murder of George Floyd, and the rise of hashtag activism, the startup ecosystem has been forced to look into the mirror and own up to the inequities it perpetuates; such as the lack of opportunities for black employees, the pause on gender pay gap reporting and the underfunding of black founders.

In response, we’ve seen a number of startups and VCs introduce D&I initiatives to show their support towards the black community. For example, Localglobe, a UK based VC, started quarterly roundtables bringing together black founders and investors to discuss actionable steps. Startups such as Aula and FiitTV held teamwide diversity and inclusion training. Ecosystem organisations such as Capital Enterprise made public commitments to invest in an angel fund and accelerator programme for black founders. In our own community of advocates for a more equitable tech ecosystem, which includes individuals from tech startups, VCs, accelerators, civil society, and more, we’ve seen discussions and initiatives emerge for more inclusive hiring practices.

The above initiatives mark a positive step towards addressing diversity and inclusion, however, we can only recognise such initiatives to be fundamentally impactful and level the playing field for underserved communities, if meaningful and comparable data is collected, tracked and monitored. Without knowing how many black individuals have applied for a role or been hired, we can’t measure the effectiveness of D&I initiatives.

Understanding the Foundation

Some startups cite that they have not been collecting diversity data, particularly in the hiring process out of fear of saying the wrong thing or publishing their data because they are embarrassed. However, if you do not know the diversity makeup for your company, how can you introduce diversity initiatives — how can you stand with the black community, if you don’t even know how many black employees you have?

Imagine a CEO or an Investor telling their Board they are too fearful or embarrassed to track and provide updates on revenue? That would be unacceptable — so why is diversity data collection not treated as equally as important revenue if it is related to the people who drive revenue? Thish Nadesan, COO, Cleo AI believes VC’s can do more by lead by example to encouraging their portfolio startups to do the same.

In order to move diversity initiatives, in the context of hiring and investment, forward we need to understand the foundation we are starting from. Tom Adeyoola, Co-Founder Extended Ventures stresses the need to improve diversity at all level, beyond entry-level roles. Having the full picture would better equip us to tackle the barriers that exist for black employees, founders and diverse groups.

Leading by Example

Despite the above, there are a few organisations within the ecosystem who have started their diversity data collection journey, ranging from candidate applications, investments, pay gaps, and more. For example, startup Organise has begun collecting applicants diversity data and believe this is a fundamental step in the recruitment process, as well as Cleo AI who issued their first D&I survey using the Culture Amp for their D&I Report.

Every year, Bethnal Green Ventures, Europe’s leading early-stage tech for good VC, publishes data in their Impact Report on the gender parity of their investment decisions and gender make up of all employees of their portfolio companies.

This year we went a step further and published diversity and inclusion data about our own team, which includes our Investment Committee because representation matters and if we want founders to commit to sharing diversity and inclusion data we should start by sharing our data as a VC firm first. Having hard data also opened up discussions about our blind spots, and we’re actively making changes to ensure anyone can access our funding and support.“ — Dama Sathianathan, Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV)

Innovate UK has now made it compulsory for all applicants for Innovate UK competitions to complete an EDI Survey. The survey will ask questions on gender, age, ethnicity and disability status — with the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if applicants are not comfortable with sharing this information. This data will not only help inform future actions to address under-representation across competitions but also allow Innovate UK to be more transparent about who they fund.

Atomico has made a public commitment to nurturing, recruiting diverse talent, which requires at least 50% of underrepresented candidates in the shortlist for all roles. They aim to hire at least 50% underrepresented candidates, by working with diverse talent pool networks and organisations such as SEO London, Diversity VC, and Future VC.

Collecting diversity data helps build accountability in the same way we do for revenue and OKRs. The point of collecting data is not to show perfection or that you ‘solved the problem’. Rather it is to give a clear roadmap of issues to solve and develop an action plan to address the issues.

With diversity data collection, you’ll be able to identify how many black individuals are applying for your company, if the numbers are low, then you can begin reaching out to communities such as BYP, Hustle Crew, Xunto, Colour in Tech, Coding Black Females, Coders of Colour to source talent — data collection drives effective intervention.

Fostering Diverse Ecosystems

No one person or organisation can decide what the future of diversity and inclusion looks like, but we can talk about the culture that data allows organisations and communities to establish. Data, especially data surrounding people and their identities or representation, is never agnostic. There’s always a reason that motivated it to be collected. So let’s not treat the data as a static solution but instead treat it as a tool for better ecosystems.

A future in which campaigns such as #KnowYourData allows organisations to have a tangible understanding of the culture they are creating and the communities they are engaging. A future that allows organisations to be more informed of their own need to change or what they are actually doing well in a way that’s translatable to other organisations as well as potential hires. This data becomes the starting point for crucial conversations and turn into meaningful actions.

The Call to Action

We have decided to take a multifaceted and accessible approach to the issue of data in diversity and inclusion. We recognise that change will not happen overnight and don’t want organisations to feel too intimidated or where they are acting without understanding. We, therefore, have three initiatives that will help provide resources towards the first unified step in organisations meaningfully working towards better diversity and inclusion.

1. Diversity Data Help Centre

The Diversity Data Help Centre will help take the burden off any one person or organisation from having to do the research on common terms, concerns, models, and more that are used in diversity data collection. It is a big step to getting organizations to acceptable levels of understanding to take action.

2. #KnowYourData Commitments

This list of commitments will contain three practical and accessible commitments that will help organisations set goals towards baseline data collection in the coming months. These commitments are purposeful, simple and realistic so they can be adopted by a wide range of organisations.

3. Become a #KnowYourData Signatory

The campaign is driven by our YSYS Community Advocates, taking an equity-oriented approach to gathering, tracking, and monitoring diversity data. And that’s where you come in. If you’re aligned to our three commitments, use and contribute to our diversity data center, we also encourage your company to become a #KnowyourData signatory today. If organisations are truly committed to being part of the progress in diversity data and understand what it entails when building the baseline data at the beginning, the signing will allow employees, partners, new hires, and clients and customers to hold organisations accountable. >>> Sign up HERE <<<<

See who’s become a #KnowYourData Signatory …

Build Structural and Accessible Change

After the hype of this summer wanes, it is hopefully becoming clear that real change has to be structural and accessible. There will always be organisations and leaders who simply refuse or would rather virtue signal than take action. Change does not come with a lifetime guarantee, and as YSYS Community Advocates we’re committed to continuously advocate for positive change.

#KnowYourData Campaign is about bringing communities together who want to be part of the change, move past empty gestures, and contribute towards a baseline understanding of the true state of diversity and inclusion in their ecosystems.

It is only by committing to building the baseline that we can move beyond the issue as well as allow each organisation to develop initiatives that are right for them.

Thank you to YSYS Community Advocates : Liz Alexander, Nithin Bopanna, Daniel Akinola-Odusola, Dama Sathianathan, Selina Palmer, Deborah Okenla, Daisy Onubugu, Thish Nadesan, Cristiana Camisotti , Tom Adeyoola, Chennelle Ansah, Nat Whalley, Jessica Hayes, Anu Adebajo, Hillary Juma and Tabitha Goldstaub.