How Does the Entrepreneurial Space Need to Change to Support Black Professionals?
Entrepreneurial tech spaces like Silicon Valley have historically held a culture dominated by white men. Its track record of “improving diversity” has been unsuccessful, with under 1% of venture capital investment going to Black entrepreneurs across the last 10 years and giant tech enterprises still missing their already modest diversity goals.
We know there’s a problem, so what’s the fix? What can you do in your tech business to support your Black colleagues or enable the success of Black Founders…?
Hire people different from you
In 2017, a study found that Black applicants who “whitened” their CV were more than 2x as likely to get to the next stage of the hiring process (HiveLearning).
In a perfect world, bringing someone into your business would be based solely on merit. However, no matter how well-intentioned we are as managers, it can be easy for our bias to find its way into the process. That is why so many teams end up consisting of people who are very similar to each other in outlook, personality, working styles, and background. In a study published by McKinsey, researchers observed that “although diversity is on the rise, 97% of companies in the US fail to reflect the demographic composition of the country’s workforce in their senior leadership teams” (TestGorilla). As leaders, you can find ways to make your hiring and promotion process more equitable for Black professionals and cognitively diverse individuals.
1. Stop asking for ‘proof’
Asking for ‘proof’ that diversity is beneficial from a business growth or revenue standpoint is problematic at best. The business case for diversity once again puts the burden of fixing the problem onto the shoulders of marginalized peoples. People feel they need to ‘convince’ leadership to engage in even superficial inclusion initiatives. Regurgitating stats like “companies with more diverse executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability” (EduMe).
When was the last time anyone asked for proof that hiring more White people was good for business? So let’s change the narrative from needing to prove ‘why’ we should care about diversity, (because we all already know why), to let’s focus on ‘how’ we get it done.
2. Measure the racial diversity of your team
Having a 50/50 split of cis-gendered heterosexual White Men and Women does not make your company diverse. True diversity looks at cognitive differences, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, educational background, class, age, religious affiliation, and race.
Be honest with yourselves about the racial diversity in your business at every level. Is your company representative of the demographic make-up of the country within which you’re based? The argument that there “just aren’t enough ethnic minorities with the skills we need in our field” is flawed and a massive barrier to progression. A Professor of Economics and Urban Policy at the New School, Derrick Hamilton, cited a USA Today report in his rebuttal of this enduring anti-black viewpoint. The report showed that “Black and Hispanic computer scientists and computer engineers graduate from top universities at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them” (Stanford School Innovation Review). The reality is, there are plenty of talented Black and Brown people out there, they may just need a little help getting in front of your tech business. So, the best thing to do is to put effort into seeking out a diverse candidate list and implementing a process that is unbias.
A great tip for measuring your companies diversity is through an anonymous survey. Not every employee is comfortable sharing personal diversity data when they join an organization, so the information your HR team has may not be an accurate representation.
You can start by explaining to employees that the survey is to collect information on company diversity and build a non-bais recruiting strategy. You can use super simple tools like Google Forms or Survey Monkey to build and send your survey.
3. Set goals and be transparent about them
Now you have the data on your business diversity composition, you can see where you are currently and set yourself a goal for where you want to be.
These goals can be for more diversity in managers, leadership, departments or the organization as a whole. They don’t just have to be about increased representation but also about developing or optimizing diversity policy. Whatever your goals, be transparent about them with the business…this will hold you accountable.
4. Review your job descriptions
Language is a powerful motivator and can play a massive part in whether we are drawn to an opportunity or not. Using inclusive language in job descriptions improves your chances of attracting wonderfully diverse candidates because it increases the possibility of enticing more people.
According to HubSpot, “Inclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Inclusive language allows you to resonate with more audiences by speaking and writing in more impartial ways.” Check out their ‘How to Use & Promote Inclusive Language at Your Organization’ blog.
There are a few platforms that can help you remove biased language so you can produce inclusive job descriptions. Try datapeople.io – a recruiting software platform for inclusive hiring.
5. Optimize your hiring process
Have you thought about incorporating job simulation tests in your recruitment process? They help you to focus on the skills needed in the job and can stop unconscious bias from creeping into the process. As a side note, they are a great way for candidates to know whether they will be able to do the job and enjoy it. So win-win!
TestGorilla offers “skills-based screening tests for a wide variety of roles that can help you make the right decisions based on performance, not stereotypes or expectations.” Check them out.
A lot of companies also enlist third parties to help them with their recruitment so it’s important to consider their commitment to diversity when taking this approach. Are you/they using the appropriate job boards and communities to source candidates? There are many online resources offering diversity recruiting solutions for specific industries which you can utilize to meet your goals. Diversity Recruiters and Hired are good ones to look at.
Bias in the Workplace
It’s important not to limit diversity efforts to recruitment because we need to be enabling all people once they’re in their job, right?
Sadly, there are some negative opinions about the tech workplace that are more than myth. For example, there is a trend of increasing discrimination claims over the past 5 years, with women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community being most susceptible to mistreatment. Scholars have even identified racial bias in applications, algorithmic design, and execution.
In particular, women of color reported high rates of facing discrimination, with 30% of underrepresented women saying they were passed over for a promotion, a rate significantly higher than White and Asian women (The Guardian). It’s important to create an environment where all people feel safe in the workplace and there is an open and well-communicated platform where employees can make complaints that will be taken seriously. If your ethnic minority employees don’t know what this process is or where they can seek support, there’s a problem. This goes for any marginalized group.
Diversity training is a well-adopted approach across large organizations, but something you see less of in smaller startup businesses. The belief can sometimes be that the open-minded and fun cultures in a new business don’t need the same training as large established business with an older workforce and long-held processes and procedures.
If you are in a new business or a startup, consider what comprehensive diversity training could do for you – increased awareness, job satisfaction, better culture! Cover topics like unconscious biases, microaggressions, civil rights violations, and reviewing diversity policy.
We are all members of a world that is still battling against racism, so to assume your team doesn’t need training leaves space for a negative culture to grow.
Ethnicity pay gap
In the US, African Americans and Native Americans still experience the highest rates of income inequality. A lot of factors may play a part in this difference including varied access to education and the standard, high school dropout rates, family structures, and systemic racism & anti-Blackness prevalent in the workplace.
In the UK, the ethnicity pay gap between White and ethnic minority employees has narrowed to its smallest level since 2012 in England and Wales. However, in London, the pay gap still sits at 23.8% (Office for National Statistics). The CIPD in the UK believes that employers should aim to “voluntarily compile ethnicity pay reports as part of their organization’s approach to improve inclusion and tackle inequality in the workplace”. So check out their guide on how to do this here.
There are also tools that help you to build out your ethnicity pay gap report. Gallagher is one that springs to mind.
Taking the initiative to investigate any pay gaps shows your minority employees that you care about identifying any discrepancies and ensuring everyone has a positive professional experience and viewpoint of their earrings.
According to BLCK VC, “only 3% of venture capital investors are Black; additionally, only 2% of partners–individuals that make investment decisions–at venture firms are Black.” This does have a knock-on effect on the number of Black businesses receiving VC investment. Because of this, we are potentially perpetuating the cycle of disadvantage and missed opportunity for Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned startups. Check out our blog on the lack of Black VCs.
Becoming a venture capitalist is no small feat. It is common that aspiring VCs will need upfront capital to invest in startups or go through finance apprenticeship. In any case, the most common routes require time, networking, and capital. To encourage diversity in VC’s there needs to be more education on how to get in, even if you are from a disadvantaged background. Check out TechCrunch post on How To Be A VC Without Any Capital.
There are also platforms you can get involved with to help increase the diversity of VCs. BLCK VC is a non-profit with the goal of doubling the representation of Black investors by 2024. Formed in 2018, it aims to empower and support Black investors while increasing diversity in venture capital. You can find out more about what BLCK VC is doing to change the stats and donate here.
What can you do as a member of a team right now?
Seek out and celebrate your Black colleagues and those who are occupying space in the tech industry as a minority. Ask yourself if you are seeing enough diversity in the channels you receive your news about your industry and sign up for a newsletter that will give you a broader view. See Black Economics and Business Newsletter.
Lobby for improved diversity policy, diversity training, and spaces within your organization where marginalized groups can be celebrated or discuss their experiences. It’s also worth looking into what causes and charities your organization supports financially and suggesting new initiatives to support.
Learn about some of the Black Founders who are shaking up the tech space, such as Dr. Johnetta MacCalla (Co-founder and CEO of Zyrobotics), Chris Bennett (Co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool), Sheena Allen (Founder and CEO of CapWay), Joe Beard (Co-founder of CollateralEdge) and Boris Moyston (Co-founder of Black Men Talk Tech and fintech startup Fundr) to name a few. See the full list here.
Support their work, or find ways to give them another platform.
At the end of the day, our society has come leaps and bounds regarding racial equity, but there’s a long way to go, and there are no easy answers or silver bullets. We have to go beyond hallow tokenism or the obligatory blog post every ‘Black History Month’. Look introspectively at your policies, practices, and structures and take those first steps.