Simple Steps Toward More Inclusive Entrepreneurship
At conferences, meetups, and events, my colleagues and I often lament the lack of diversity in the audience, particularly the lack of women. Organizations like the Doyenne Group here in Madison, WI, are doing great things to cultivate entrepreneurship among women. Some recent changes in my life, however, have given me a new perspective on a few simple things we can do to reduce gender bias and make the entrepreneurial community more inclusive.
My wife and I moved to Madison in 2009, a few months after Capital Entrepreneurs (CE) was formed. Starting out as a small gathering of tech company founders, CE is now an essential component of the Madison startup ecosystem, with more than 300 members. CE’s monthly meetups are now always packed with startup founders—they’re more vibrant than ever, yet I barely attend them anymore.
My poor CE attendance is the result of two “startups”: one named Elizabeth, the other Charlie. CE meetings always take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., a poor time to abandon your spouse when young children and bedtimes are involved.
Prior to having kids, it would have never occurred to me that the mere starting time of a meetup could have a profound impact on the types of people able to attend. It’s now the primary obstacle to my attendance. And evening meetups are an even tougher proposition for women entrepreneurs with children.
This isn’t a slam on CE. The group remains my favorite. It’s just meant to illustrate the type of blind spots we need to address in building a more inclusive entrepreneurial culture. Once we’re aware of these unintentional biases, we can apply some energy and creativity toward addressing them.
The fixes can be simple. We’re planning to offer childcare at the 2015 Forward Technology Conference in Madison in August. I’ll bet this experiment proves successful in pulling a few new faces into our community.
Also, consider making this simple pledge, as I have, against gender bias in tech.
Other blind spots will shrink as the current generation of software developers and creative professionals grow older. Google recently discussed plans to launch versions of its products, including YouTube, that are geared toward kids. “The big motivator inside the company is everyone is having kids, so there’s a push to change our products to be fun and safe for children,” vice president of engineering Pavni Diwanji told USA Today. The aging team at YouTube is now clearly seeing the world from a new perspective.
We entrepreneurs are skilled at finding and building levers, the small things that make the biggest impact. What are some other levers for building a more inclusive startup community?
[Editor’s note: To tap the wisdom of our distinguished group of Xconomists, we asked a few of them to answer this question heading into 2015: “How should the innovation community solve its gender and diversity problems?” You can see other questions and answers here.]