By Stacey Browning, Managing Director
The future of tech may produce “smelevision,” meaning that someone will create technology to allow folks working in front of their computers to virtually smell, taste and touch things.
This was among the informative nuggets from a recent panel discussion sponsored by ACG Cincinnati that I had the pleasure of hosting. As for smelevision, that assessment came from Rani Yadav-Ranjan,
who was thinking out loud about how the global pandemic will lead to the creation of all sorts of innovations as a growing number of virtual workers seek tactility. “The Internet of the senses,” Yadav-Ranjan said.
The central point of the virtual panel discussion addressed inequities and breakthroughs for women assuming leadership in business. “Driving Parity Forward: Women in Financing & Investing” included Lindsay Knight, director of platform for Chicago Ventures, Dr. Rachel Angel, founder of Peerro, and Rani Yadav-Ranjan, head of Ericsson’s Global Artificial Intelligence Accelerator.
Some key takeaways from from the panel:
- Those in leadership can make a conscious decision to diversity their boards of directors and staffs, and build a diverse bench.
- Leaders, especially in tech, must find a way to help women and people of color maintain an upward trajectory with their careers.
- We all need to take into consideration that black and brown entrepreneurs may not have the decades-long network of contacts and access to capital that white people traditionally have and respond accordingly.
‘It takes a long time to go out of our comfort zone to be with people who don’t look like us’
For Lindsay Knight, solving for diversity means reaching out to people who don’t look like her. “It’s not a pipeline problem; it’s a network problem,” Knight said. So she formed Chicago Blend, a collaborative effort of Chicago’s venture capital firms to track, support and increase diversity, equity and inclusion in Chicago. Collaborating with the University of Chicago, the group found a gap in diverse representation on startup boards in Chicago. Chicago Blend developed a list of more than 100 diverse board candidates and posted the names on its website called the Blend List.
“We as humans surround ourselves with people who look like us. It takes a long time to go out of our comfort zone to be with people who don’t look like us,” Knight said.
Angel: Still dealing with dynamics of race in business
Panelist Rachel Angel is a minority founder of the workforce development platform Peerro with a unique perspective. She raised initial seed funding and has attracted others who are interested in her business, but she cautions against a belief that success seems easy. “Because we are at a place now where minorities seem to be at the forefront of our minds, it might seem like the road is getting easier. Don’t neglect to realize that we are still dealing with these dynamics,” Angel said.
Plenty of studies, including the oft-cited 2015 one by McKinsey & Co., show companies that prioritize racial, ethnic and gender perform better than those who do not.
In 2020, according to McKinsey, while men narrowly outnumber women in entry-level jobs (53% to 47%), 28% of women hold the title senior vice president (23% white and 5% women of color) and 22% hold C-suite roles (19% white and 3% women of color).
So, what does this tell us? We have made scant progress in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. We know that diversity and inclusion are good for business and promoting diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. And never has the urgency to improve the way we have done business been more apparent. During the session, I was reminded of a passage from Julian Guthrie’s book, “Alpha Girls.” Guthrie recites a conversation with Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said, “If venture doesn’t diversify, tech won’t diversify.”
That’s leadership from the top. And it sets a good example for all of us.
Stacey Browning is managing director of Cincinnati-based CincyTech, a public-private seed- and growth-stage investor in tech and life sciences.