As the dialogue around the lack of diversity in the startup world continues to evolve, I’ve wondered how the startup culture at large can begin to get closer to the root of the issue. Indeed, startup leaders and founders are not experts in sociology, but in the face of ample evidence that sexism and a lack of diversity altogether are a problem in the world of tech startups in particular, I believe that founders and community builders have a unique responsibility – and opportunity – to alter the future of startup communities and their narratives.
Last year, UP Global, the nonprofit that I work for, pledged to create 1,000 thriving startup communities around the world with the support of the United States Government and other key partners. This commitment was made in light of a gradual understanding that we’ve seen take hold over the years: capable entrepreneurs are more likely to emerge from strong, thriving communities. Yet, at the time that we made this commitment, we knew that the term “thriving” was highly subjective; how does one compare what success looks like to a community in metropolitan California when compared to a rural, fledgling community in Uganda?
Realizing that each community faces unique challenges and possess important distinctions, it also became clear that there could be – and should be – certain factors that are important and relevant across the board. In my brief time as director of our Startup Women initiative, which aims to create 1,500 female-led startup teams this year, I’ve begun to see how critical diversity is in building out strong teams — and perhaps even more so, in building strong communities. As UP Global hones in on the key factors that create truly thriving communities, we’re recognizing a unique opportunity: what if each early-stage community that we aim to support makes a significant effort to integrate diversity strategies into their efforts? Imagine a world in which every community builder is keenly aware of the advantages that diversity presents.
It may be overly optimistic, but if this awareness were to truly take hold, we could see diverse and strong startup communities emerging globally in the next 5-10 years alone. This impact would, by default, spur the creation of more diverse startup teams, if teams continue to be build from localized talent networks; and if these teams become more and more diverse, we will see the stories of entrepreneurs who were once deemed minorities gradually take hold in the mainstream discourse of what success looks like and who is behind the entrepreneurial movement at large.
In a recent post by Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, he writes, “Debating whether or not sexism actually exists trivializes the problem in a toxic way.” Similarly, I believe we are beyond the point of debating whether or not lack of diversity altogether is a problem in the startup world. Debates aside, we would do well to move forward in the direction of diverse communities as a way of enriching talent networks and reshaping the worn out process of creating founding teams from our most immediate connections.