Lack of Diversity Isn’t a “Pipeline Problem,” It’s a Network Problem

Opinion

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Building a more inclusive network

—Partner with organizations that support candidates from underrepresented groups, such as like 4DegreesManagement Leadership Tomorrow, JopwellCode 2040National Society of Black EngineersLesbians Who Tech (the first summit is in mid-September), WeSolvNoirefyNational Association of Black Accountants, and Grace Hopper Conference.

—Increase the diversity of your referral pool by explicitly encouraging people in your current network to refer companies led by underrepresented groups. Referral hiring can lead to a homogenous candidate pool, but encouraging your network to refer amazing founders from underrepresented groups can help. Someone who is similar to you might be the first person that pops into your mind, but if you ask your network if they know of any promising companies with diverse founders that are looking for investment, chances are, most people in your network could quickly think of someone.

—Perform an audit of your digital presence to ensure your firm is communicating an inclusive culture and investment strategy. Yes, you do have to navigate this one authentically, but inclusive language and photos say a lot about your organization. Attracting interest from companies led by an underrepresented group is easier when you are an organization that looks like one they could see themselves working with. If your website showcases your all-white, all-male team and your all-white, male-led portfolio companies, then you most likely won’t appear like a firm that would be a good partner to a portfolio company led by a woman or person of color.

—Grow your inclusion skills and ability to work through differences. Let’s say you follow steps 1-3 above and identify some great founders who belong to underrepresented groups. The diversity part is done, but now the inclusion part begins. At this stage, Trey Boynton, head of Duo Security’s diversity and inclusion team and one of EntryPoint’s advisory board members, offers sage words of advice: read, attend conferences, talk with diversity and inclusion leaders, and talk with colleagues who do it well. Then, apply your own spin on inclusion that will help you grow authentic supportive relationships with folks who are different than you. Investors partner with startup companies to grow something profitable and awesome, but inclusive investors just happen to change the system while doing it.

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Emily Heintz is the managing director and founder of EntryPoint, an organization working to advance Michigan’s entrepreneurial community through partnerships that promote inclusion, community engagement, and education. Follow @EmilyHeintz_

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