Diversity in technology is a hot button issue I’ve been told to stop talking about — mainly from a small contingent of radical people who say that “cishet white males” have nothing to contribute to the dialogue and that they should “SHUT UP AND LISTEN!!!!!!”
It is possible, obviously, for cishet white males to *actively* listen and help solve the diversity problems in ways other than “shutting up.” Crazy, right?
In fact, I’ve been talking about the issue constantly on my podcast because my producer and I have been very focused on having groups who are underrepresented in technology on the program more often.
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No one person can solve the problem, but I do think that each of us should be part of the dialogue, both listening and speaking, but most of all, taking action!
I’m going to step onto a huge landmine by writing this post I’m certain, but I’m not going to let my life and my writing be dictated by “PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS AND YELL AT ME FOR BEING A WHITE MALE WHO HAS SUCCEEDED DUE TO THE WHITE PATRIARCHY!!!!”
No, I’m going to take action and discuss this issue as much as I damn please because it’s important. Additionally, I suggest all folks working on this issue in technology discuss these issues with a big open heart and true intent so that we can all move forward and lead the world on this issue.
Technology executives and companies have reached a level of influence and impact that has rarely been seen in the history of civilization. We can’t benefit from this global revolution, where citizens embrace our creations — be they apps, services, or devices — and ignore the issues of our time: equality, environment, and opportunity among them.
Of course, every time a white male brings up diversity he risks being slammed by both sides, which include “men’s rights advocates” asking me point blank: “Do you pick your conference speakers based on them not having a penis?!”
Here are a few things I’ve done over the past couple of years to make sure, as an angel investor and conference host, we have more diversity:
- If I’m emailed a reasonably solid prototype/MVP for investment by a group that is underrepresented in technology, and my schedule allows for it, I will meet with them.
- We seek out organizations involved in diversity and give them free tickets to our events. We give hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships per year to these organizations, in fact.
- Not only do we have massively diverse speaker lineups at every event, we aim to beat the actual industry representation of women and entrepreneurs of color by at least double (and typically achieve more).
- We have a harassment policy at our events that explicitly stops the kind of nonsense you see at TechCrunch events, like a women in the audience being called a “bitch” over and over again. Or lest we forget, the “titstare” startup presentation they put on stage with a 9 year-old girl in the audience. Oh yeah, they also approved a masturbation startup at TechCrunch disrupt!
- We have worked hard to have diversity in our guests on This Week in Startups, and as the host I’ve made room for real discussions about these issues.
Now, I’m not stating all these things for approval from any group. Rather, I’m explaining what my team and I have designed as our way of contributing to making the issue just a little bit better.
For the folks who tell me I’ve “lowered the bar” by, for example, taking the time to meet with more female founders even if they are not as far along with their startups, I’ve got three things to tell you:
- It’s my f-ing time, I’ll allocate it how I see fit.
- If I meet with more female founders, and can give them some honest feedback on their pitch and product, that should help them tweak those things 10-20%.
- Three of my most successful investments, it turns out, are female founders.
Paradoxically, one thing I’ve learned over and over again in the past year of meeting with many more underrepresented founders is that they are flat out *better* as investments on average than the ones who are already represented well (think: white men!).
I’m not a social scientist, but the actual individuals in question here have told me things like, “I have to be better than the white males” and “If I don’t make this work I’m not sure I’m going to get a second swing at bat — white guys always will!”
That’s powerful stuff huh?
If you’re a female, African-American, or Latino/a founder we want to have you as a guest at our events (email email@example.com), and when your product is ready for review we want to meet with you (fill out the form at launchofficehours.com).
If you’re an investor or conference producer, I suggest you follow our approach of “at least 2x” the ratio that Twitter, Facebook, and Google have shared in their diversity reports.
If you’re part of the contingent that doesn’t want to hear from white males I suggest blocking me on Twitter (I’m @jason) and delete this RSS from your Feedly Reader — because I’m going to keep talking about and working on this issue.
Mansplaining ‘til day I die,
PS – LAUNCH Festival has a social good award that HandUp won last year (disclosure: I’m an investor in the company). If you have an awesome socially-driven startup, email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can either have them on stage or give them a DEMO PIT TABLE.
PPS – The LAUNCH Hackathon has filled, but we are wait-listing folks (and there are normally cancellations). Go here for details.
PPPS – If you are a baller VC, CEO, or angel you should buy a “Super VIP” pass to the LAUNCH Festival. These cost $5,000 but you get to come to three closed dinners (Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights) with the speakers, startups, and other investors. Also, these tickets help support our mission to support founders. Email email@example.com to get one. There are no discounts for these tickets, which cost less than TED, Re/code, and most other high-end events.