May 23, 2016
Diversity can be difficult to find in the tech world. Unfortunately, the young white male stereotype has been patently proven to dominate this field. And while incubators and accelerators are persistently pursuing the cream of the crop, exclusionary tactics have seeped into the culture of the industry. Fortunately, the Detroit startup ecosystem has made a substantial effort to change the way women and minorities are valued in the business world. And while it seems to be working, there is always something you can do to be better.
This topic was talked about at length during the Detroit Startup Week panel discussion on inclusive entrepreneurship. Among the many important takeaways from the talk were the barriers of diversity. As mentioned in the discussion, these barriers refer to systematic issues preventing women and minorities from entering incubators and accelerators. And because women and minorities are the most positively affected by these programs, it is of the utmost importance to destroy these barriers.
There were four different ways to solve these problems. Let’s take a look at them to better understand the importance of inclusion and diversity. You can also watch the full discussion above, which was led by Janis Bowdler, managing director with global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and included participation from Vanessa Holsey at the Detroit Development Fund; Ned Staebler, CEO of TechTown; and Kim Zeuli, Ph.D., senior VP and director of research and advisory practice at ICIC (Initiative for a Competitive Inner City).
Expand Recruitment Networks
The main problem with inclusivity in incubators and accelerators is that women and minorities can’t even get in the door. Whether it be a lack of women and minority leaders in various industries or the absence of diverse partnerships in the community, women and minorities are simply not finding their way to incubators and accelerators in large numbers.
Solving this problem involves cultivating a community of inclusiveness before the process begins. By putting women and minorities in positions of power and authority, companies will get the perspective they need to succeed while also appealing to a whole new section of potential candidates. Providing minority mentors is an effective and inclusive way to bring diversity into your program.
Diversify Selection Committees
While women and minorities are getting the chance to shine, they are rarely bursting through the first stage of the process. Whether this is intentional or unintentional, the system is clearly set up in a way that awards being young, white and male, through either cumbersome applications or exhausting interviews. This is preventing women and minorities from progressing through these processes and even encourages them to avoid incubators all together.
The key to fixing this issue is diversifying the selection committees tasked with deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. Again, the intention may not be to exclude these candidates, but the reality is that women and minorities are not shown the same respect when these situations arise. Putting women and minorities in a place to see themselves succeed is beneficial to companies and candidates alike.
Create Inclusive Programs
While the previous two problems were based on the systematic practice of preventing minorities and women from entering the process, exclusionary programs are creating a lack of desire to enter them in the first place. While intentional or not, the overly competitive nature of incubators and accelerators, along with the absurd requirements of immediate relocation and three months of straight work, is creating a serious lack of diversity in existing programs.
If you are serious about creating inclusive programs, you need to branch out from the typical model you have been taught. Allowing for a more flexible schedule could allow minorities and women to more easily transition into entrepreneurship. Developing programs that meet the needs of everyone can go a long way in fostering diversity.
Cultivate Diverse Culture
The startup culture is infamously competitive and exclusive. While this has driven innovation and developed technology beyond your wildest dreams, there is an inherent lack of diversity that comes with that level of competition. Many incubators and accelerators boast their exclusivity, while actually hindering their ability to get new perspectives on common industry issues.
In order to fix this problem, you are going to need more than just a new outlook on life. Creating a diverse culture requires a serious look at your own company culture. Because most businesses don’t realize the implications of their own marketing, encouraging diverse applicants to succeed can be more difficult than originally thought.
Tech Town in Detroit has been able to facilitate this change with 60 percent of clients over 50, 60 percent of clients being non-white and 40 percent of clients being women. As mentioned in the discussion, this was more than intentional; it was necessary. In order to succeed as an incubator or accelerator, it is important to be representative of the community. And if they want to improve the economy of the entire area, they are going to need people from every neighborhood to do it.
This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe.CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at Chase.com/forbusiness. Read the rest of our Startup Week series.
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