Diversity, Inclusion, and Access: How Tech Needs to Accelerate

At the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival Philip McKenzie, creator of the Influencer Conference, moderated a panel on how we can accelerate inclusivity in tech and media with Jon Gosier, Founder and General Partner at Southbox, Cherae Robinson, Founder and CEO of Tastemakers Africa, and Lina Srivastava, Founder of the Creative Impact and Experience Lab. Here are Jon, Cherae, and Lina’s top three suggestions on how the tech and media industries can increase diversity and access:

Address the Blind Spots and Biases in Funding 

“The biggest gap is in funding, what gets funded, what gets the green light. I don’t think these things are intentional. The decision making in media and in tech is informed by what people are comfortable with and what people know,” Cherae said.

Recent studies have shown that female CEOs earn only 2.7% of all venture funding, and women of color earn virtually none: only 0.2%. The need for both more people of color and women in both leadership and management positions in tech organizations is vital to increasing overall diversity in the tech world. Why? It is very often the people in these powerful positions who hold the key new entrepreneurs need to launch  – funding. And when the majority of V.C.s are overwhelmingly white and male, it is very often other white males who receive their funding and that critical cash influx needed to get a new idea off the ground. If we want the tech industry to be more inclusive, we need more diverse leaders and funders who can champion new ventures helmed by people of color and women.

Lina echoed Cherae’s sentiment, agreeing that we need more diverse leaders in management and funding positions to help smaller, newer entrepreneurs find their funding and footing. “I’d like to see more decision makers who are women and people of color, to begin to correct the power imbalance.” 

Increase Exposure, Increase Confidence

Another way to make tech more inclusive?  Create exposure and access to events like the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival, for communities that aren’t familiar with the tech landscape or are unable to participate.

“Growing up, I didn’t know a career in tech existed,” Jon said. “I think of the tech community as a culture in itself. If you don’t understand, haven’t been exposed, haven’t participated – you’ll be intimidated and self defeat. It’s not just the tech community that needs to embrace new entrepreneurs, you also have to adapt to the new space.”

Current members of the tech community can work on reaching out to underrepresented communities and increasing their exposure to tech in a number of ways. For example: speaking or presenting at conferences or panels, offering mentorship to younger entrepreneurs who need advice on adjusting and succeeding in a new community, and sharing expertise and personal stories about the adjustments and challenges of adapting to the tech world. By focusing on creating more opportunities for underserved and underrepresented communities to become engaged with tech at a younger age, these potential entrepreneurs can flow into the tech and business world more easily, later in life. 

“Be the example for the type of people you want coming after you,” Jon said. “I’m here, I’m doing this, you can do it too.”

Build Resilience

Tech is a tough industry. How to survive as a new entrepreneur? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, not only in your business choices, but also with speaking up about increasing diversity in the industry. 

“Make that your normal. When you do, you get used to that type of friction,” Jon said. “You need to use your voice to accomplish whatever you can to serve as an example to others.”

In addition to building internal resilience against criticism and self doubt, it’s also critical for new entrepreneurs to expect a bumpy road to success. New biz owners need to give themselves time to find and achieve the metrics they want, or to “Allow time to find that runway to success,” as Lina said.  Additionally, it’s also important for the decision makers and people in power to give that time to new entrepreneurs, instead of expecting overnight success.  

“We know there’s an issue,” Cherae said, to close out the panel. “But, I focus on what I can do as an entrepreneur, which is build the best business I can.”

Watch highlights from Jon, Cherae, and Lina’s panel at the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival:

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