Lee: It goes back to that question of empathy and sympathy. I don’t have empathy or sympathy per se, but I do have understanding for the white man. Part of that comes from I’m actually married to a white man, a white man who is from an incredibly privileged background. My daughters are the grandchildren of Korean refugees, and they could also be Daughters of the American Revolution.
Here’s the example of where my understanding comes from. My husband, for the first 40 years of his life, was a witness to racism, but he never experienced racism himself, the sting of racism. He didn’t really understand what it meant. When my seven-year-old daughter was four and in preschool, she had her first experience with racism. A bunch of blond girls in preschool went up to her — she’s biracial, dark hair, brownish skin, dark eyes — and said to her, point blank, “You’re never really going to be pretty because your hair is too dark.” Somehow four-year-olds had already learned white supremacy, in the most progressive Upper West Side zip code you could imagine.
My daughter comes home and tells this story. I’ve heard this all my life. I’m Asian-American. I’ve experienced racism in this country. I know how to deal with it without getting angry. I was able to talk her through it. My husband was so angry. It was his first intimate experience with racism, because his children are him, right? He was ready to go out and beat up some four-year-old girls. I said to him, “This is a learning opportunity for you. Think about the anger you feel from the most minor experience of racism. The next time you wonder why black people are angry, why Latins are angry, why women are angry, this is what it is.”
That’s what I mean when I say I don’t necessarily have empathy or sympathy, but I have an understanding. A lot of men don’t know what sexism feels like. A lot of white people don’t know what racism feels like. They’ve only witnessed it. That’s why I talk about no judgment. You can say anything to me and I will be neutral to you. How do I give you these experiences?
Chang: If anybody wants to go to the confessional, they can talk to Bo after this.
Nortman: Coming out of the summer, the great thing about my firm is that each one of us — there’s something on our own that’s natural to us. It’s equally important for men to drive diversity as much as women. One of my partners came to me one day and said, “Hey, I think we should add diversity language to all of our term sheets.” We put minority investors in tech companies who come in at the earliest stage when we can make a difference. We call it the Bettinelli Rule, after one of my partners, Greg Bettinelli.
It basically says, “This is an important value to us. You will make your best effort to interview multiple candidates for every C-level role that come from a diverse background.” We can’t enforce that, but it creates the dialogue at that moment in time when you’re coming together and putting together your board for the first time.
One of the firms that did this went out on a big press blitz and I was thinking, “Come on, you just need to do it. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it.” We’re not a firm that’s afraid of press. We definitely don’t mind it. But things like this, we think you just do it. You stick your head down and do it. Emily actually learned about it from one of our entrepreneurs.
Chang: When I gave a talk about the book, I’d mentioned different companies that were doing this or that. This entrepreneur came up to me and said, “I took money from Upfront Ventures, and they have this rule. We’re six people, and two of us are underrepresented minorities and two of us are women. It’s working.”
Nortman: This was a white guy from Harvard that I funded. I’m an equal opportunist. 50 percent of portfolio is led by a woman CEO, it’s okay that I fund a white dude. [laughter] He took this, and in the first board meeting, he put a slide up that gave himself a report card on everything, including how he was doing on this initiative. He gave himself a B-, and by the next time it was up to an A-. That’s what Founders for Change is about. Not just looking at how you’re building the team, but who are you putting on the board? How are you being thoughtful about this from the beginning?
The second thing I’ll mention quickly — everyone here in this room is probably already an awesome advocate. But I think, when you are woke, you have to challenge your wokeness. You are the people who are most likely to make the change and role-model the most innovative behavior. I don’t know what that means for you, but I what I would say is, going through cognitive bias training is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done. We think we’re so progressive and liberal and woke. But how do you truly get people to answer the hard questions in a safe way?
I sat with two of my male partners last week during this male allies initiative at All Raise and asked them all these questions. What do you think we’re doing right? What do you think we’re doing wrong? How do we get more men involved? I got a bunch of very honest answers back that went into my head, but then I thought, “Well, what if we should switch boards sometimes? We see a ton of women deal flow, but what if I should just tee it up and hand it over? I can hire a woman or two women or minorities, but what’s going to make them the most successful in the first three months? What can I do that stacks the deck in their favor, that I can take no credit for?”
For me, in venture capital — breaking into venture capital is impossibly hard. I came in and my partner Mark sourced my first deal for me. He’s the face of the firm. I’m an equal equity partner in the firm, but I had to go build all these relationships with all these other men. He teed it up and gave it to me, and once you have that, it’s much easier to go forward. You have something to talk about and something to do.
This idea that you can just hire someone and then let meritocracy take over — you need to go out of your way to figure out how to challenge your own wokeness and become better. It is this room that will make the change. We need to figure out how to get more people into the room.
Paul: As individuals we can advocate from our positions of leadership. We can model and we can mentor. Those are universally important to getting this done. As organizations, I’m not a believer in quotas, but I’m a believer in a meritocracy of opportunity, and you have to make sure you’re really creating that meritocracy of opportunity. That starts with recruiting. That starts with ensuring that your organization is being as open-minded and diverse and working at it.
At Hulu we started recruiting at traditionally African-American colleges, which we hadn’t done before, to be more diverse in our recruiting and bring people into the pipeline. Then, how do you keep doing that all the way along as careers progress? As an individual you can be an advocate and a mentor, and as an organization, you can evaluate yourself critically in terms of how well you’re really doing. Both getting people in the pipeline and making sure they’re succeeding in the long run.
Waters: A lot of this is things we’ve done at Lyft and that I’ve seen in past lives at other organizations. The one thing I’ve seen at Lyft that’s different from what I’ve seen before, and something that I’ll carry with me through the rest of my career – that I’d replicate if I started other companies or worked at other companies — is having a value-driven organization that personally states, up front, that the number one value is to be yourself.
The power of that — it’s on the wall when you walk in to headquarters, number one of three values, and it’s repeated at all times. It gives cultural permission for people to show up no matter where they come from, what their background is, how they come in the door. You’re welcome here. We want your voice to be heard. We value it. We don’t want you to come in here feeling that you have to fit in to a cultural norm that we’ve set. That’s been incredibly powerful. No matter where I go in my career, I’ll pick that up and take it with me. I think it’s had a profound impact on all our employees.
The second thing — I’ve been a beneficiary of people sponsoring my career. I’m a huge believer in the power of individual sponsorship. The thing I would recommend on the individual side is, find a person you want to champion. It’s not just about championing them publicly or in meetings. It’s about beginning a career and expanding opportunities. It’s pushing them well beyond their comfort zone. Women don’t typically do that themselves. Stereotypically, we don’t show up and demand that we get new opportunities. Men and women alike, the more we can individually go out and take on expanding their opportunities on an individual level is incredibly powerful.
Audience: I run a venture-backed company in the consumer space, so I’m one of the two percent. I went through all the fund friction you’ve talked about. When I worked in finance, like most of the people here, I watched a lot of guys get together and fund their friends’ companies at the infant stages. In order to become a bigger company — it wasn’t easy for us to raise capital when we were small. It was very difficult. Do women, beyond mentorship, need to start doing those $5,000, $10,000 investments? Do they need to get into those social circles where they’re supporting, at the very beginning, with that initial capital to get to the key metrics that you then take to someone like Kara?
Nortman: For sure. Very quickly, the more we can get women investing — you invest in things where you feel like you have an insider advantage as far as understanding it or having access to it. I think a lot of women are similarly afraid to invest. What we see now, though, is a positive swell of more women investing. A lot of venture funds have what are called scout programs, and everyone wants women scouts.
We have a long way to go, but between the JOBS Act, Kickstarter, angel investing, everything else, I would say for sure. The more we can encourage women to just write small checks into businesses — you’re training future venture capitalists and you’re getting people funding. There are a lot more funds that have a gender lens now, particularly at an early stage.
Audience: I’m with a fintech company based in San Francisco. I’m excited about the conversation, but I wanted to ask, particularly about — as the conversation has begun to happen around diversity and inclusion in the Valley, particularly as it relates to bro culture — we’ve seen a lot more impact around gender diversity. But intersectionality, and what’s happened around African-American women and Latina women, who have an even smaller representation in the Valley — in the C-suite I’m probably one of less than 10 black women in the Valley, at any company. That’s unacceptable. I’m excited about this conversation, but even at this panel, there are no women of color represented here. When we’re having these conversations, what are you doing to ensure that African-American and Latina women are lifted up in these conversations that are happening, and this widespread growth that’s happening in terms of fostering women’s advancement in the Valley?
Lee: This is where I went back to spending time thinking about yourself. We talked a bit about cognitive bias. There is a tremendous amount of socialized racism in the Valley and in society that a lot of us don’t want to admit is there. There’s that concept of, “What do we do with all the good racist people?” The more you actually believe that you probably have racial biases, the less you’re going to act on those racial biases.
The reason I use the term “good racist people” is because we would not have a society as polarized and as bifurcated in terms of socioeconomic status if we did not have systemic racism flowing and up and down every part of our society, if the vast majority of non-black, non-Hispanic people did not have a little bit of racism in them. There’s this great tool called the IAT, the Implicit Association Test, that does stuff around race and our implicit associations around race. Eighty percent of all people who take the IAT show a moderate to significant “black people are bad, white people are good” — that implicit association. The vast majority of us have something in us.
But we’re all raised to assume that if we have a racial bias, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we must be a bad human being. That’s not the case. We’re socialized to believe that. If we act on that bias in a conscious way, yes, that’s bad. But we have to begin the process of, “Do I have an implicit association around race?” Almost certainly, yes, for all of us, including myself. The sooner we can have that honest conversation, the sooner we can make progress on this. That’s the big unspoken thing.