Assume Competence for Women’s History Month

I am often told we don’t have enough women in the pipeline for tech jobs. Here’s my take on that: there are enough women in the pipeline—if you assume competence.

What do I mean by “assume competence”? Let me give you an example.

The Volleyball Example

In September of  2018, men held almost 60% of the head coaching positions for Division I women’s volleyball teams.

Women make up 100% of the athletes in women’s volleyball. Yet not even 50% of the coaches are women. There are only 22 men’s volleyball programs at the Division I level in the NCAA, yet they apparently produce enough coaches to supply almost 60% of the coaches for 334 women’s Division I programs.

Over 75% of the athletes who play volleyball in the U.S. are women, yet there is no pipeline problem of men to coach women’s volleyball. To my knowledge, after some brief searching, there are zero programs that prepare men to coach women’s volleyball. There is no leaky pipeline study, no Lean In book telling men what to do to coach in a female-dominated sport.

Why do we not have a pipeline problem for men coaching women’s sports? We assume competence.

We assume men who have never played women’s volleyball or (other women’s sports) can coach women’s volleyball. There are key differences in the skills and strategies of men’s and women’s volleyball. Nonetheless, we assume not only that men’s skills at playing men’s volleyball are useful and transferable, but also that they can go to the next level and coach—lead, instruct, motivate, develop winning strategies for—a women’s volleyball team, even though they have never played this exact sport.

To put it bluntly, we assume whatever experience a man had before makes him competent to coach women. There is a gendered expectation that the man is fundamentally competent.

To reverse the situation, almost no women coach men’s sports. Women’s experience playing and coaching women’s sports is not seen as transferable to men’s sports.

Why not? I would argue that it is because we do not assume women’s competence in the same way that we assume men’s competence.

Back to Tech…

Imagine if we could replicate the pipeline of men coaching women’s volleyball and apply it to women in the tech industry. The NCAA was somehow able to take a pipeline of approximately only 20% men—none of whom had direct experience playing women’s volleyball—and fill 60% of the leadership positions, i.e., the most prestigious women’s coaching jobs.

How did they do this? What was their secret? They assumed competence.  

If we assume competence, we can do this diversity thing in tech. There are women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and many other underrepresented groups with either directly applicable experience or transferable skills who can lead, build, and grow your tech company—if you assume competence.








Black History Month: Be The First

William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, 1960. “After a Federal court ordered the desegregation of schools in the South, U.S. Marshals escorted a young Black girl, Ruby Bridges, to school.”

Black History Month is always a month that I find quite emotional due to my own heritage and the many documentaries on TV during the month. The images that impact me the most are those of the desegregation of schools. My father is African American and he only attended segregated schools. My father told me that everything in his school was a hand me down from the white’s only schools. The school was so poorly funded that he drove the school bus his senior year in high school.  

Not that long ago

The reality of segregation is only one generation ago for me. Sometimes it is hard to imagine that my father never sat next to a white person in school because the law of the United States forbid it. When I see the documentaries about desegregation, I realize again, viscerally, how recently this all happened. What I find most disturbing is the footage of young African American children being escorted by armed National Guards or US Marshals into a school. In some cases, it is literally elementary age children. These small children suffered insults, people spitting on them, and a level of fear I will never know or understand. The children and their parents endured insults and threats so that everyone with brown skin could go to school.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort the Little Rock Nine students into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

They paid the price to be the first

These children and their families are the definition of integrity and commitment. They chose to be the first. They were there because of the color of their skin. The small children that integrated schools had no control over what people thought of them. They had nothing to apologize for and were not responsible for the racism directed toward them.

By walking past all the hate and threats, they forced the United States to honor its commitment to equality and the principles of our democracy. What they achieved changed America and the world.

Yet I often see the term “token” used to degrade those who subject themselves to being the first. Were these children mere tokens, so few that they didn’t really matter? No. Clearly, they mattered—both to the people who were so vehemently protesting and to those who took courage from their actions.

I am a token

I once had a colleague at a former job tell me, “You are a token.” He said that my company only hired me because of the color of my skin. At first, I was offended and hurt by his statements.

But no longer: I am a token. By which I mean: I am among the first. Somebody has to be first whether you are integrating a school or a lunch counter, sitting at the front of the bus, or serving as the first woman on the Supreme Court. It has to be done.

So go ahead and call me “token.” I am not responsible for your racism. If you assume I am unqualified because of the color of my skin, my gender, my ability, or another status—I am not responsible for your bigotry and racism.

Stop doing the work of the bigot or racist—and be first

If we begin to say “no” to opportunities because we are afraid of what others might think or that we might be a token… we are taking racism and bigotry to its highest level. This means you are more concerned about the thoughts of the racist or bigot then you are about making change. That bigots and racists have you doing their work for them.

The bigot no longer has to threaten violence or stand in front of the schoolhouse, because you have made what they think of you the highest priority.

You may be afraid that some people will think your opportunity arrived just because of the color of your skin or your gender. The fact is, you cannot change your race, gender, or other status, so bigots will think you are unqualified regardless of what job you have or where you stand.

Stop valuing the opinions of the racists and bigots. Do not be deterred by the label “token.” Be the first—even if that means, for a time, being the only.

Honoring the legacy

Someone has to be first. There will be those who say you only got the job because you are Black, because you are a woman, or for some other reason connected to your identity. You have no control over what people think of you and you are not responsible for their bigotry.

Be the first, be the token.

I no longer worry if others think I am here because of the color of my skin. I no longer concern myself with if others think I am qualified. As I will make a change, I will speak truth to power, and I will be a token. Those small children escorted by armed National Guards opened the door, and I will walk through. You can doubt me because of the color of my skin, my gender, my ability—and assume I am less. Call me a token. Your negative assumptions of my qualifications or ability only reflect your racism, sexism, or other -ism.

I am not responsible for your bigotry. I will honor those small children that desegregated schools and I will be the first. I am a token.








Techstars Partners with digitalundivided to Support Black and Latinx Women in Tech Entrepreneurship

Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and digitalundivided, a social enterprise that supports Black and LatinX women in innovation-focused entrepreneurship, today announced a strategic partnership in an effort to increase the number of diverse women founders in the Techstars Network. In joining forces, Techstars and digitalundivided are working to increase equitable access for Black and LatinX women founders entering Techstars programs, including Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs, Techstars Startup Weekends, and Techstars Startup Weeks.

This partnership announcement coincides with digitalundivided’s BIG Demo Day, that took place yesterday in Atlanta, Georgia, where 11 women-led startups in diverse fields such as eGaming, recruitment, education, beauty and lifestyle, media, and produce supply chain were showcased. The founders completed the 2017 and 2018 BIG Incubator program, a 30 week program for a select group of Black and LatinX women-led companies based on lean startup methodology. Techstars staff Jason Thompson, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Techstars, and others attended the event.  

“This year Techstars has expanded our focus on diversity and inclusion, and our partnership with digitalundivided is one of the ways we will achieve on that commitment,” says Jason Thompson. “We are thrilled to work with digitalundivided to further our engagement with Black and LatinX women entrepreneurs and provide the Techstars network as a resource to support their growth and success.”

Techstars is committed to expanding opportunities for underrepresented individuals throughout the network and serving as a leader in inclusive entrepreneurship. Active engagement of a diverse group of entrepreneurs plays a strong role in the economic empowerment of underrepresented peoples worldwide, stimulating positive social and economic global change. With industry data showing correlations between diverse teams, innovation, and stronger profitability, Techstars recognizes the importance of investing in diversity. According to a recent study, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to perform above the mean in their industry and those in the top quartile for race/ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform others in their industry.

According to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report in 2018, women of color account for 47% of all women-owned businesses, an estimated 5.8 million businesses, and generate $386.6 billion in revenues. However, digitalundivided’s 2018 research initiative, ProjectDiane2018, found that this group receives less than one percent of all venture investment. Additionally, they are far less likely to have the personal wealth, financial safety net, or network of support other entrepreneurs rely on to launch and grow their businesses. The partnership between digitalundivided and Techstars will focus on increasing access for women of color to resources and opportunities that drive them towards success.

“We’re excited to partner with Techstars,” says digitalundivided Founder and Managing Director, Kathryn Finney. “Given that our BIG incubator program is dedicated to high-growth tech businesses founded by Black and Latinx women, we see this partnership as a chance to expand pathways to success.”

Applications for digitalundivided’s award-winning BIG Incubator program 2019 are open. To apply for the Atlanta or Newark cohorts go here. Got questions? Go here.

About digitalundivided

digitalundivided (DID), a social enterprise founded in 2013, takes an innovative approach to economic empowerment by encouraging women of color (WOC) to own their economic security through entrepreneurship. With offices in  Atlanta, GA and Newark, NJ, DID is the primary pipeline for WOC into innovation-focused entrepreneurship, helping founders raise over $25 million in outside funding.

Their current programming is built upon the success of DID’s FOCUS Fellow (FF) program (2012-2014), which provided support for WOC entrepreneurs. In 2015, DID started the #ProjectDiane data initiative and used insights gained from the ongoing project to build the BIG Incubator program and the BIG Innovation Centers.

About Techstars

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates three divisions: Techstars Startup Programs, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, and Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships. Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 1,500 companies with a market cap of $15 Billion. www.techstars.com








The Audio Must Match the Video: Updating the Techstars Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

By Jason Thompson, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars

Recently, I purchased a new TV. I decided there was no reason to read the directions. I figured I love technology, and I’m reasonably handy, so: no need for directions. What could go wrong?

I soon realized that every channel was in a foreign language. My first thought was that the cable company inadvertently sold me a lineup of channels for this particular foreign language. I assumed all I needed to do would be to change the channel to a local station. I was wrong! The local channel was also in a foreign language. The characters from a very popular US sitcom were speaking in English, I could tell, but the audio was something else. The audio did not match the video. The sound and the action didn’t match.

A simple principle of watching TV is that the audio matches the video. Much the same principle—that what we say must match what we do—is the basis for Techstars decision to update our Code of Conduct and incorporate the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. We have publicly said we are committed to Diversity & Inclusion, so it makes sense incorporate this into our Code of Conduct, plus adding some clear things we can do to act on our statements. Audio matches video.

The Kapor Founder’s Commitments have 4 pillars: Goals, Invest, Volunteer, and Educate (G.I.V.E.). We commit to hold ourselves to these standards, and we ask that all members of our network do the same. By having these pillars, our audio will match our video. It is one thing to say we are committed to D&I—but it is even more important to show how we are achieving on our stated commitment. G.I.V.E. is a tangible way to measure and implement our D&I commitment. As this project progresses you will be able to see a dashboard on our website that will show how Techstars is achieving on the G.I.V.E. commitments. You will see that we are not perfect; D&I work is a journey. We have places for improvement and projects in progress. We want make sure we are being transparent.

We know D&I is important, but it has to be reflected in our Code of Conduct and it has to mean something tangible. That is why we have included the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. Kapor has been a leader in the D&I space, so there was no reason to reinvent the wheel. We have worked closely with Kapor and we are grateful for their encouragement and shared learnings.

There was another thing that happened when I finally figured out how to change the audio on my TV to English… the video was fine, but somehow the audio was about one second behind the video. I could now understand everything, but the sound didn’t quite sync up with the images. First their mouths moved, and then came the speech. This was hugely distracting, to the point I couldn’t even watch my show.

The timing of the audio must also match the video, because even the slightest delay creates problems that cannot be ignored. This is quite a metaphor for fair pay for equal work. If you review the changes to the Code of Conduct you will see we have also expanded our D&I commitment to include fair compensation for equal work. Companies commit to diversity and inclusion need to make sure what they say is reflected in their actions and includes fair pay.

If you are paid a salary that is even a little behind what your co-workers are getting for equal work, it is unjust. Justice should not be asked to wait. It also creates an environment that breeds resentment because the solution is simple: pay all people a fair wage for their work. That is why we included in the Techstars Code of Conduct that all members of the network commit to ensuring everyone receives fair compensation, including all forms of equity and benefits. Audio must match video.

In addition to asking everyone in our network to sign the Code of Conduct, we are building a drip campaign for all new founders to assist them in meeting the D&I commitment. It will remind them quarterly of their commitment to D&I, and offer suggestions for them to achieve on the principles of G.I.V.E. Many of these suggestions cost little and are designed to assist even the youngest startup achieve on their D&I goals in a manner the is consistent with their size and resources.  

Plugging in a TV seems simple enough, but the details are important. Being handy and loving technology are not enough for setting up a TV—or a productive D&I program. Liking people from diverse backgrounds and assuming that you have no bias is not enough. Building a D&I program requires commitment and focus. The commitment must be reflected in policies and programs. As Techstars continues on our D&I journey, we thank Kapor Capital for their work in the D&I space.  And we ask that you join us on our journey. It is equally importantly that we all commit to working to ensure that the audio matches the video: that what we say matches what we do.








Proposed Change to Techstars Code of Conduct

Thank you to those of you that have made suggestions to the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct. We have listened, and below you will find a new version of the proposed change based on a suggestion made via the website (as of 10/02/2018). Your suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

The Techstars Founder’s Code of Conduct is a living document managed by our community. We are reaching out now for your input on a proposed change to the Code of Conduct. Because we believe in diversity and inclusion, we wanted the Code of Conduct to better reflect that commitment. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated. Please submit your thoughts here by October 12, 2018.

13. We encourage diversity. We are committed to building inclusive work environments that reflect and value the diversity of people and cultures found in the world, which we believe leads to better companies. To ensure that our commitment to diversity and inclusion are tangible we adopt the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments, a set of four actions known, as “G.I.V.E.” (Goals, Invest, Volunteer and Educate).

25. Fair pay for equal work. We are committed to ensuring everyone receives fair compensation (to include all forms of equity and benefits). We appreciate the commitment our employees make to the success of our companies and agree to compensate them without regard to ability status, age, ancestry, civil union, class, color, ethnicity, familial status, gender, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, military service (current or past), national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or other status. As a member of the Techstars network, we agree to be committed to eliminating all forms of pay inequality.