We often don’t like to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. As a result, we try to change the subject and focus on the weather. The funny thing is, the weather is real, and if I tried to deny it, you would not talk to me.
Let’s talk about the weather
Let’s imagine we are standing in the rain:
You: “Raining hard, isn’t it?
Me: “I don’t see rain.”
In this situation, my response would be unsettling. If I continued to try to convince you that I did not see rain, while we were both being rained on, you would probably become very uncomfortable. Yet I am often told, “I don’t see your color.”
What if I told you, “Things that are important to you don’t matter to me.” That, I imagine, would also be uncomfortable.
The definition of caring
When my mother died several years ago, people who barely knew me said extraordinarily kind things to me. Even casual acquaintances seemed to be able to find a simple combination of words to show they could relate to the pain of losing a parent or loved one.
Not one person ever said to me, “That doesn’t matter to me—I only see you.” No one said, “I don’t care about your mother’s death, I just care about you,” or “You are more than a son.”
Caring, by its very definition, means that things matter.
I would have been offended if someone had told me that they didn’t care about my mother’s death, because it mattered enormously to me. And because it mattered to me, it mattered to people who cared about me, even those who only knew me slightly.
I get these things wrong, too
Some time ago, a friend told me that he was gay. My response was, “That doesn’t matter to me. I just see you.”
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my response belittled something that was very personal and important to my friend. To his credit—or maybe because I mattered to him—he let the moment pass, and showed me understanding.
When people tell me, “I don’t see color,” referring to the color of my skin, it makes me feel like I do not matter. By saying this, they are telling me not only that my experience as a person of color doesn’t matter—they are denying that my experience even exists. The color of my skin is part of me, and given the world we all live in, it has shaped my life—just as the color of your skin has shaped your life.
Yet even though I had experienced this hurt myself, I made the same mistake with my friend. I was trying to tell him that I loved him—but what I actually told him was that something important to him was not important to me. I unintentionally told him that to me, his reality didn’t even exist. It was hurtful regardless of how I meant it.
The words we choose matter.
What should I have said when my friend came out to me? Sometimes a good friend just listens. If I could relive that moment, I would tell him: “I am honored that our friendship has developed to the point where you want to share something that is important to you. You matter. What matters to you is important to me.”
June is LGBT Pride month. Take a moment and share kindness. Let your friends and family know they matter. Let them know you love them because of all the things that make them who they are.
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.
“Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”
—Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”
“Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.”
—McKinsey & Company, “Why diversity matters”
As an entrepreneur—and as a human being—you know that having a diverse founding team, advisory board, and team of employees is both the right thing to do and good for business.
Focusing on Diversity & Inclusion can be difficult for busy founders who are trying to get a new company off the ground. That’s why we want to offer some simple and actionable advice for founders about how to create a diverse and inclusive company, starting from the very beginning. This advice is based on Techstars Founders Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion, including the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments. All participants in our mentorship-driven accelerators sign on to these commitments; we believe that they can be helpful to founders everywhere.
Setting goals around diversity and inclusion is an important first step. You can’t meet goals you don’t set, so the very act of setting goals is meaningful—even if you don’t meet them yet.
Of course, not all companies are the same, so nor should their goals be identical. In setting your goals, take into account your company’s funding stage, employee size, customer base, and core business.
Keep Yourself Accountable
Now that you’ve got some goals, hold yourself accountable to them. Keep track of how you’re doing, and include progress reports on D&I in your quarterly investor updates.
Review (or Set) Policies
When was the last time you looked at your company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy? Do you even have one?
Take the time to review your policy, and if you don’t have one yet, set one. A major step toward building an inclusive environment is making sure everyone feels welcome and respected; a good way to do this is to make sure your values are reflected in your priorities.
Here are some samples that you can use:
Example of a non-discrimination policy:
(Your company) is dedicated to the principles of equal employment opportunity in any and all terms, conditions or privileges of employment including hiring, promotions, termination, training and compensation. (Your Company) does not discriminate against applicants or employees on the basis of age, race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, genetic information or any other status protected by federal, state or local law, where applicable.
Example statement on addressing bullying, discrimination and/or harassment:
A repeated pattern of physical and/or non-physical behaviors that (a) are intended to cause fear, humiliation or annoyance, (b) offend or degrade, (c) create a hostile environment or (d) reflect discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual athlete or group based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or mental or physical disability; is prohibited.
These are just a few key steps, but if you do all three, you’ll have made a very good beginning toward building a diverse and inclusive company.
Do you have questions about how to build D&I into your startup?
Come to our AMA on March 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm ET “Diverse Startups Do Better: How To Make Yours More Inclusive At Any Stage” with Jason Thompson, Techstars VP of Diversity & Inclusion and Allyson Downey, weeSpring founder and author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.