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Like so many others across the world, the murder of George Floyd has been a wake up call for myself and our fund. There are clearly systemic race issues in our country and beyond, and companies big and small need to do more to take sustained action to drive meaningful change. That includes us.
The tech industry has made an estimated $1.2 billion investment in diversity since 2015. However, despite these investments, the presence of tech professionals from underrepresented groups, such as ethnic and racial minorities, has only grown a little less than 2 percentage points over the last few years (Intel/Dalberg). The tech industry employed a record 12.1 million people and created over 2 million jobs in 2019 (CyberStates). Diversity isn't about filling seats at a broken table – it's about building a new one and the strategy used to get there.
And it is clear that we as an industry and we as a fund are not doing enough.
We have spent the last month listening and learning from underrepresented founders in our community and portfolio, underrepresented employees on the team, companies that are doing the work already and the broader ecosystem. We recognize that we’re not where we need to be, and we’re actively working on how we can be better. We also know that listening and learning is just the beginning, and that we need to take increasingly larger steps to create sustainable long term initiatives and commit to seeing them through. We’ve brought on a new team member dedicated to leading and rolling out these initiatives in a non-performative and sustainable way, and we have collectively come up with a plan that we will be publishing below and updating with progress over time to hold ourselves accountable. This plan outlines how we as a fund and business will take sustained action to build a team of employees, a cohort of founders, and a portfolio of companies that are inclusive of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and physical abilities. We certainly don’t have all of the answers but we won’t stop learning and improving because we understand how crucial it is to make this change.
We are building out an accountable, measurable plan that includes the following four phases. We will report progress on our initiatives, numbers, programming, and impact on our portfolio of companies every 6 months moving forward. Stay tuned to Forum Ventures channels as we continue this incredibly important journey.
1. Fix how we hire, develop, and retain talent
It all starts inside our own doors.
At Forum Ventures, we invest in and care deeply about the future of work. However, the future of work that we and the broader tech ecosystem work so hard to create is incomplete if people get left behind. We believe that a table filled with diverse perspectives and experiences, where everyone feels comfortable to use their voice, will lead us to the best outcomes. This is crucial to our success.
Right now, our team of seventeen (9 full time, 8 contractors) is made up of 10 (52.9%) that identify as a woman, 6 (35.3%) that identify as Black or POC, and 2 (11.7)% that identify as LGBTQ+ with 1 team member identifying as non-binary. At the partnership level, i.e. the people making final investment decisions, we have 1 woman and no POCs. In a small team such as ours, every voice at the table is crucial and those voices should be coming from as diverse backgrounds and perspectives as possible. Not only that, but we work with over 50-60 tech startups each year, and these companies look to us for how to build their team. We need to lead by example.
We will do that by improving how we hire, develop, and retain talent as follows:
In order to hire people from diverse backgrounds, we need to create equality of opportunity in our hiring process. We can do this through things like inclusive job postings (by eliminating all coded language) as well as diversification of our talent sources and pipelines. To ensure we’re doing this right, we are putting in place an accountable measurement system that looks at both our pipeline and hires, and we will publish our numbers during our bi-annual updates.
We need to make sure that all people on our team have equal access and opportunities to grow and develop in their careers. We’ll do this by investing in employee development, providing implicit bias training for the entire team, providing a safe space for employees to anonymously send feedback, conducting qualitative employee research to create a culture of belonging , and creating resource groups for employees and cohort founders from underrepresented groups.
It’s not enough to hire diverse talent, we need to make sure they are comfortable, empowered, and can flourish on our team. While we are a small team today, we feel it is important to start to put policies and processes in place around this now, so we are prepared as the team grows. The first step is to track and measure diversity metrics like compensation by race and gender, trends in promotion, and more, and hold leaders accountable for continued progress. We also need to raise awareness of any existing equity-related issues and reset behaviors through educational courses and mandatory training for the team.
2. Create equity in our investing strategy
As venture capitalists, we have a platform to be able to create an outsized impact by reallocating capital to those that the industry has historically looked over. Capital provides opportunity and access so that the world at the top, in the boardrooms and the offices looks like the world outside. Who we choose to wire investments to can have a measurable impact on building an equitable tech ecosystem and on the broader economy.
Of the 155 companies we’ve invested in to date, 22% of founders identify as a woman, 2.5% identify as Latinx, 7% identify as Black, and 2.5% identify as LGBTQ. In our current cohort, which started a week ago and is not included in the 155 above, 28% of companies have founders who identify as Black, 12% have founders who identify as Latinx, and 24% have founders who identify as women. Here, it is important to recognize that while we are improving, we are nowhere close to where we want and need to be and we are committed to doing better.
We need to ensure that we are sourcing, evaluating, and investing in companies founded by underrepresented groups. We’re going to focus on intentionally locating and leveraging new sources of deal flow where we can access, mentor, and eventually invest in underrepresented founders and are going to be putting together a targeted outbound sourcing strategy to do so.
A first step is to make sure we hire new members onto the investment team that come from visible minorities, which will in turn create an inclusive lens from which we source, evaluate, and invest in startups, as well as which founders choose to join us.
We are uniquely positioned as an accelerator to have an outsized impact on a high volume of startup companies, given how early we get involved and how hands on we are throughout the program. I truly believe that if the first 5-10 hires at a startup are from diverse backgrounds, that company will organically have a diverse workforce at scale. We have the ability and responsibility to educate and influence the companies that we work with day in and day out through content and programming. We don’t take this responsibility lightly, and we will be incorporating this content into our accelerator programming starting with the current cohorts happening right now.
This means creating an inclusive tech community from our portfolio outwards and engaging with community organizations. It means making sure we have more diversity across our public-facing events – our Innovator Series and Early Adopters Council briefings – including who we include on our panels. It also means that the people we invite to mentor and speak to our Accelerator cohorts come from more diverse backgrounds, bringing diverse values, perspectives and learnings with them.
We are committed to making change and will report back frequently on our progress. We are always learning and very open to feedback, so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss. This is a big, systemic issue, and while we will work tirelessly to make as large of an impact as we can, the reality is it will take all of us as an industry and society working together to drive the change that is needed.