Cameron White, Associate Partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund, led a discussion that shed light on the problem with traditional, homogenous teams, explained possible strategy options and discussed why now is the time for companies and organizations to establish diverse strategies. Joining him as panelists were:
- Michelle Molitor, (FREE, Fellowship for Race and Equity in Education)
- Rachel Wilson (Yelp)
- Sonja Gittens (Asana)
- Mandela Schumacher-Hodge (Kapor Capitol)
The discussion was followed by a mini-workshop, during which entrepreneurs applied these concepts to their own companies.
The session emphasized thinking about diversity in three ways:
1. Hiring – including pipelines from entry level through the C-Suite. Panelists focused on promoting from within and building the skills and mentorship of employees of color.
2. Company Culture – including having open conversations about race and diversity within companies. Panelists focused on using the Harvard Implicit Bias test as a way to open these conversations.
3. Product Development – including representations of words and/or imagery used in products and user testing that reflects the demographics of a companies intended student users, especially since public schools students in the US are now majority minority (as of 2015).
Our Ignite entrepreneurs presented applied ways to focus on diversity in their own hiring, culture building, and product development goals. Recommendations from our entrepreneurs included having diverse focus groups that intentionally match the demographics of their student users, improving early pipelines for entry-level positions through internships and recruiting at more diverse universities, and anonymously surveying employees as feedback on whether companies’ efforts are actually creating more diverse cultures.
In addition, our panelists recommended several resources for companies to improve hiring and open conversations on diversity. First, the panelists unanimously emphasized the importance of awareness of individual biases and suggested that companies encourage their employees to take the Harvard Implicit Bias test as a way to open a discussion about race and diversity. For hiring, tech-based recommendations included Jopwell, Piazza, Brazen and Blendoor.