Amid mass public outrage over police brutality and ongoing violence toward Black people, many companies are rushing to extend messages of solidarity, eagerly proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.
But in many cases, these messages fail to translate into a strategy.
Black lives matter and have always mattered. But while Black culture is openly celebrated in American society, Black lives and Black voices are not given the same consideration. This extends to the corporate world, where Black professionals are often unseen, unheard, and underrepresented.
As two Black women—a British expat and an American, both members of the venture capital community—we know we are among the least represented groups of the financial services ecosystem. According to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures, 81% of VC firms do not have a single Black investor. While Black men represent 2% of VC firms, Black women do not even rank a single percentage point, according to data gathered by The Information. Forget about finding data on Black professionals in VC operations roles, like ourselves. As two Black women leading marketing at an early stage venture capital firm, we are an anomaly. But at this moment in time, our voices are a small but powerful force for real transformation in the industry.
Marketing and communications professionals have been thrust onto the frontlines of managing this “crisis moment.” Over the past week, we have seen companies scrambling to say something—anything—about what Black Lives Matters means to them, but few have taken the time to develop a tangible strategy for long-term, authentic, and measurable change before releasing their public statements.
Here’s the thing: a statement of solidarity without real action behind it is an empty gesture. In marketing there is a tendency to be aspirational in communications, but now is not the time for lip service. Now is the time to get uncomfortable, to acknowledge the racial disparity within your own organization, and to create the right strategy to support real change in your workplace and in the Black community. The work needs to come before the talk.
For VCs considering their ongoing public response, this is what authentic communication, backed by action, should look like:
Do not “tackle diversity later.” Integrate it into your culture
True diversity means representation of different genders, races, abilities, orientations, backgrounds, and experiences—all who have a voice in the conversation. The majority of the corporate #BlackLivesMatter responses have been crafted and shared without a single Black person consulted or represented. Do not speak for us. Give us a seat at the table so we can speak for ourselves.
At our firm, Anthemis, our decision to invest (or not) in new companies is informed by their founders’ strategy and policies. We have always integrated this approach into our due diligence process. As marketers and Black women at the firm, we have been at the forefront of the internal discussion about how to respond and craft a thoughtful plan of action based on our experiences.
Mentorship will only take you so far, so invest in talent
Last week, the nonprofit organization BLCK VC hosted a powerful webinar with over 3,000 attendees globally. During the discussion, seven Black professionals in the VC and tech ecosystem detailed their experiences and insights. One anecdote stuck out for us from early stage investor, Monique Woodard: “Black entrepreneurs are over-mentored and underfunded.” We believe that you should partner with organizations such as Black Girl Ventures and Black Founders or encourage entrepreneurs at the earliest stages of building a business to consider applying for funds such as the Female Innovators Lab to match mentorship and resources with capital access.
Let the money do the talking
The VC often talks about the “pipeline problem.” Let us turn that talk into action. While recent events have encouraged firms to jump at the opportunity to create new funds dedicated to Black founders/entrepreneurs—a step in the right direction—we want to encourage firms to use existing capital to address the problem. We do not need funds dedicated to people of color to invest in great talent. We need to utilize existing structures and funds to effectively allocate capital. This will not be successful if VCs do not broaden their networks. This means committing to sourcing Black investment team members, Black fund managers, and Black recruiters. That is what we call the “network effect.”
That diversification will enable VCs to channel existing dollars into founders they were never aware of before. In addition, for the firms that have donated to #BlackLivesMatter community organizations in the immediate term, don’t stop donating. Go a step further and match the donations of your employees. Long-term, set up a cadence as an organization for supporting these community groups further.
Authentic collaboration is critical, now more than ever
You are not going to be successful in reaching Black entrepreneurs unless you enlist the help of organizations/groups dedicated to diversifying the industry. There are several organizations out there that you can tap to broaden your network, knowledge base and capital, such as Backstage Capital, BLCK VC, and Diversity VC. Reach out.
This is not a “crisis moment” to get through; this is a lasting movement. You have to put skin in the game for the long haul. Look at your hiring processes, your networks, your capital allocation, and decision-making practices. Create metrics and hold yourselves accountable. We’re doing the same. At Anthemis, over 10% of the team is Black and 52% of our employees are women—atypical for our venture given the industry average of 27%. While we acknowledge that we have a long way to go, we believe that sharing where we are in the journey will encourage others to do the same. We hope that the current environment is a catalyst for the long-term change we all hope to see across our industry.
Charity Mhende leads brand and communications for Anthemis and supports the growth and development of early stage startups around the world.
Elise Brown leads product marketing for Anthemis, overseeing fund and content marketing strategies targeted to strategic investors.