February 17, 2016
Things are better than they were a decade ago, but there is still a serious lack of diversity in tech, especially when it comes to tech startup founders. There are a lot of people talking about how to make tech more inclusive and diverse, but more often than not it ends with the talking and nothing proactive is done to address these issues.
Kathryn Finney, founder and managing director of digitalundivided (DID) noticed this lack of follow-through and wanted to learn more. Finney has a background in epidemiology and is no stranger to research. Her team at DID went in search of answers and thus #ProjectDiane was created in February of 2015. #ProjectDiane became one of the focuses for DID, as they set out to find data that explained the limited diversity in tech, especially when it came to Black women.
They scoured their networks and conducted online searches trying to find as many US based Black women startup founders as they could. At final count they were able to find 88, which was surprising and disappointing. Naturally, this discovery led to even more questions. First of all,why so few? And secondly, what could we learn from them?
I had the opportunity to talk with Kathryn Finney to learn more about #ProjectDiane, some of the surprising findings that came out of the research, and what goals they hope to achieve now that the data has been compiled and analyzed.
Black Women Founders Don’t Come Out of the Same Schools as Other Startup Founders
Finney mentions that one of the most counterintuitive results to come out of #ProjectDiane was the colleges that produce female woman founders versus other startup founders. We often hear of Stanford, MIT, and Harvard as the main institutions that breed successful entrepreneurs; however when it comes to Black woman founders, they came from a couple of these schools, but there were a few differences. The top five schools that produced Black woman founders were Harvard, Columbia University, Northwestern University, UC Berkeley, and MIT. Stanford actually came in tenth–tied with Spelman College and UNC.
“I used to be involved with admissions for Yale,” says Finney. “And one of the problems was that Black students weren’t even applying to be not accepted. So it was not a possibility. And you wouldn’t know going to Yale or Stanford was a possibility if you’d never met a Black person who went to Stanford. I think that one of the issues is that the industry as a whole is expecting 18-year-old kids to be able to take these huge leaps of faith, to be able to imagine themselves in places where we don’t exist.”
Data on Black Women VCs Are Neglected or Underreported
Finney and her team were hoping that the number of Black woman tech founders was underreported, and they found that to not be the case. However, one group that was recently discovered to be underreported is Black woman VCs. Just the other day there was an article in TechCrunch that supposedly broke down the demographics that make up VC firms. Black women did not even make the list.
Finney personally knows a couple Black woman VCs and realized that reports like this only perpetuate the issue that DID is trying to solve.
“There’s a pie graph. It has Asian women, Asian men, Latina women, Latino men, White women, White men, Black men, but no black women,” Finney says of the article written by Richard Kerby.
#ProjectDiane Is a Call-to-Action for Foundations and Policy Makers
#ProjectDiane was completely self-funded until the end when GoDaddy came on as a sponsor. Finney says that while they learned a lot from the research, it is not DID’s only focus (they primarily provide Black and Latina tech startup founders with networking, training, and funding to help them build and scale their companies), so it’s unlikely they’ll repeat the study any time soon.
The primary goal of #ProjectDiane is to raise the awareness of policy makers and foundations and empower them to make changes.
“We hope that it really, not just fosters conversation, because there’s been a lot of talk, but we hope that it fosters action. Specifically we want local governments and foundations who we have identified as really the people who can impact a great deal of change. We hope that this empowers them to start making massive change.”
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