If you’ve been reading and listening to Black voices in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, one thing is very clear: This has to be more than a social media moment. Let’s start with the acknowledgment that systemic racism has been with us for 400 years and is just as virulent and present as ever.
For those of us in venture capital and the tech industry, there is daily work we should all be doing in our workplaces, in our homes, and our communities to focus on making concrete change within our own organizations and extended networks. Many of us have been quiet, but as founder Freddie Harrel, CEO of Radswan, said on our Zoom call last week, “It is a great privilege to be nervous about what to say.”
We encourage you to overcome that nervousness and begin the work in earnest. If you haven’t gone deeper into the issues affecting Black lives in America, we urge you to start. We’ve been drawing from a breadth of Black voices, social justice organizations, and anti-racism reading to learn how to be better allies. These are eight steps we can all commit to and stick with when media coverage dies down and the pandemic is over. We can do more to be better allies and drive capital to founders who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). This is just a start, and we’d ask both our Black and non-Black venture and start-up colleagues to add their thoughts to help further define these ideas.
Acknowledge systemic racism
This extends from your company, your firm, and your fund, to your life.
No matter how attuned to racism we think we are, our processes and decisions have been negatively impacted by systemic racism. As CEO and cofounder of Uncharted Power Jessica O. Matthews noted, “You have to make yourself uncomfortable every day until it’s no longer uncomfortable. That means committing to intentional review of every step in your process. It’s going to slow you down for a while; accept that.”
“Be mindful of opening up meetings and interactions with ‘How are you?’ or ‘How was your weekend?’ right now, which could retrigger or dismiss the experience of your Black colleagues. Acknowledge what is happening and share your empathy. [But first] ask your Black colleagues if they’d like to make space to talk before you do so (not everyone will be ready), and IF your Black colleagues do say yes—listen but don’t place the burden on them to educate you or to create space for your own feelings of helplessness.”
Read the detailed thread from Dynasti here: 5 dos and don’ts for white leaders and colleagues who want to discuss racism at work.
- What leaders can do for Black employees, from Diversity in the Workplace coach Akilah Cadet
- How to talk trauma and protests at work, from Benish Shah
- 5 ways you can help as an ally at work starting tomorrow, from Fana Yohannes
- Building effective allyship skills is critical: here’s how you can start, from Paradigm
We also encourage you and your teams to take Harvard’s Project Implicit Unconscious Bias Test.
Diversify hiring of leaders
Commit to making the pipeline for every new hire on your executive teams and your investment teams diverse. Does the top of the applicant funnel have enough BIPOC candidates? What percent of them make it to in-person interviews? Reflect on where you posted and which networks you reached out to for warm referrals. Make it clear you’re looking for diverse recommendations.
For start-ups and investment firms alike, explore hiring tools such as Textio and Pymetrics, job boards such as Black Tech Jobs or Diversify Tech, and mentorship platforms such as The Whether. Consider whether the stated qualifications or your pattern recognition are adversely limiting the pool (for instance, to résumés with Harvard Business School, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, McKinsey, Bain, Goldman Sachs, or Google). Think about whether a different set of questions could draw out the qualities you look for, such as creative problem-solving and resilience.
We can further this work in venture capital by investing in the success of BIPOC in the investment community. Per Sydney Thomas from Precursor Ventures, think about nominating BIPOC investors for startups’ building boards, for VCs that are adding new general or venture partners, or to speak on panels. You can use Thomas’s list of Black Women in VC or HBCUvc’s 31 under 31 as a starting point. For the latter, don’t add these professionals to your panels to talk about being a Black person or about diversity in venture capital. Add them to talk about investing.
Make founder networks more inclusive
Do all your founder friends look like you? This is an important question we’re asking ourselves regularly. We need to build genuine relationships with BIPOC founders and bring them into the “trusted networks” that get founders funded. Invite them to happy hours, recommend them for panels, and get to know them better so you can send warm introductions on their behalf to your investor network. Do this not just because it’s right, but because it will make you more successful. Addressing today’s global challenges and opportunities demands diverse voices and diverse points of view.
Specifically, we urge the female founders in our network who have been silent for fear of saying the wrong thing to start following Black female voices on social media. As Glennon Doyle said, “We aren’t going to get anywhere until we follow Black women. [They] have been leading the fight for liberation for centuries. We need to follow their leadership and center their voices.” We will all learn by following them. We suggest teachers such as Rachel Cargle, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Elaine Welteroth, and VCs Arlan Hamilton, Sarah Kunst, Monique Woodard, and Sydney Thomas as well as the group BLCK VC.
Reassess your processes
Be honest. Have you ever said, “We fund the best talent” when asked about the lack of diversity in your portfolio? We still hear it, and read it even more frequently, despite the unspoken and boneheaded implications. Let’s commit to expanding our deal flow pipeline so we can find BIPOC talent. This means going to pitch competitions for BIPOC founders, scouting in cities where Black founders live, or at a different set of universities, such as HBCUs. You can read more about how to get more Black entrepreneurs venture capital investment.
Even more critical, let’s amend our processes so we actively consider our own implicit biases when assessing the pipeline and doing diligence. Consider that a BIPOC founder who has had to overcome systemic racism and investor biases may have created the core attributes we all look for: resiliency, grit, creative problem-solving. Ask questions that get to the heart of their entrepreneurial journey, not just those that allow you to pattern match. (h/t to Jessica O. Matthews for these suggestions.)
We recommend following and getting to know Precursor Ventures, Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital, and Cleo Capital for their pre-seed and seed pipeline, joining Lolita Taub‘s group of angel investors, or working with accelerators such as Founder Gym, Black & Brown Founders, and Hillman, as well as inviting more BIPOC founders in your area to your events, perhaps from The Black Founder List.
At BBG Ventures we’ve previously, though sometimes imperfectly, committed to taking every meeting with an underrepresented founder regardless of whether it’s a warm introduction or cold outreach. We will continue to do so. We are further committing to strategies to expand our own scouting networks, as well as accelerators and pitch competitions. We’ve invested in Black founders, but we have more work to do.
Limited partners need to fund BIPOC general partners
As a limited partner, have you ever asked a BIPOC general partner how their fund is different from another BIPOC’s fund? That question incorrectly implies that all BIPOC general partners are the same and are a “diversity play.” Instead, make it known that you’re interested in expanding your pipeline of general partners beyond your existing network. If you have an emerging manager program, put out a call to the general partners in your portfolio asking for referrals of the best underrepresented professionals they know. We recommend spending time with Fairview and Plexo Capital, who have executed thoughtful strategies in this area.
VCs can introduce their underrepresented general partner colleagues to limited partners. Don’t just send a one-line introduction and pat yourself on the back. Take the time to expand your general partner network and give meaningful referrals.
Use your privilege to donate to and act for organizations driving systemic change against racism
Do support the bail funds for demonstrators, especially the city-specific bail funds. You can find a list here. But recognize that the bail issue is much bigger than today’s protests. Sixty-five percent of people held in local jails have not been convicted of any crime. They are stripped of their freedom because they couldn’t pay the cash bail. They end up losing jobs and contact with their families, and all too frequently they plead guilty to a charge just to get out. Consider supporting organizations driving systematic change such as bailproject.org, which is working to end the racial and economic disparities in the bail system and combat mass incarceration.
We can give our time, and empower our teams as well, to make calls on behalf of organizations such as Communities United for Police Reform, who are pushing to repeal legislation, such as 50-A in New York, that keeps police misconduct private, or to mayors’ offices to adopt the model use of force policy from Campaign Zero (h/t to Kanyi Maqubela for this easy-to-understand breakdown of state-by-state use of force policies). We can also offer to match our employees’ or our founders’ and their teams’ donations.
Vote and hold candidates accountable for the issues that matter
We have an opportunity and an obligation to create change in November. Black Lives Matter has launched #WhatMattersMost2020 to focus voters on key issues such as racial injustice, police brutality, criminal justice reform, and voter suppression. BIPOC will make up a third of the eligible voters in November. One in 10 eligible voters will be Gen Z.
Engage your community, promote voter registration, and give time to organizations such as Spread the Vote, the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, Adopt a State, and Rock the Vote to make sure that everyone who has the right to vote is allowed to do so.
This goes beyond the national election. The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels. They are mayors and county executives, DAs, and state’s attorneys. Voter turnout in local elections is abysmal, and they are often won or lost by hundreds of votes. Let’s impact those outcomes by giving employees time to canvas and time to vote, and by setting an example by putting in time ourselves.