This was originally published on Startup Grind, the global startup community.
The impact of technology on mainstream society has grown beyond measure. From the dawn of the Gig Economy to the ubiquity of smartphones, the way we live our lives has fundamentally changed over the last few years.
The accelerated pace of integrating technology into every conceivable consumer activity such as ride-sharing, finding lodging, food delivery, connecting with friends and so on presents an ironic opportunity for Silicon Valley to disrupt its own brogrammer culture and accelerate inclusion in a way that other sectors and regions simply cannot match.
How Silicon Valley Influences Culture
Silicon Valley has an oversized impact on our popular culture and how we interact and function.
We make movies about Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, leading school-age children to dream about dropping out to launch the next unicorn company. From Silicon Valley to Silicon Hills to Silicon Beach, dozens of regions across the country try to replicate Silicon Valley’s culture down to its very name.
Silicon Valley also influences how we interact and function as people. A venture capital decision to fund a social platform influences how a whole generation grows up socializing with friends. The decision to fund a technology-enabled transportation company radically changes how people get from one place to another.
The key here is that venture funding is what largely enables these startups and their massive influence on our culture. These VC power brokers identify, fund and equip the startups they believe are primed for success and help them reach that tipping point of maximum influence.
Unfortunately, right now, the VC power brokers are primarily white men who are identifying and funding younger white men. This lack of diversity has real social and economic consequences that are not good for any of us.
Unconscious Bias Limits Diverse Inclusion
The absence of women and minorities in Silicon Valley has been recognized and discussed at length in documentaries, articles, and op-eds like this one.
The challenge is that everyone is influenced by unconscious bias where people unconsciously associate “brogrammers,” with successful entrepreneurs and associate women and minorities with lesser roles within the organization.
Since VCs and entrepreneurs are focused first and foremost on success, it’s natural to decide on a “brogrammer” as the safe choice to lead to success.
Unconscious bias is the implicit associations people make about others, informed by their history and environment. These associations happen automatically as our brain associates current situations with past ones in order to process information very quickly.
The “natural” decision selected by our brain is not necessarily the right one; it’s just the instantaneous selection our brain makes based on seeming “facts” that are already known or previously experienced.
To truly address unconscious bias and accelerate workforce diversification, we need a change to our pop culture so that people are intrinsically motivated to be inclusive rather than extrinsically forced by diversity or regulatory mandates.
How best to do this? By having Silicon Valley disrupt its own brogrammer culture and model the type of inclusive leadership that will have an oversized impact on pop culture and trigger a broad “inclusion trend.”
But to do this, venture firms need to fund more women and minority entrepreneurs. Companies, in general, need to establish more diverse leadership.
Diversity - Good For Business - Solves Problems
Entrepreneurs typically try to solve problems they’ve personally experienced and men and women often have different experiences and perspectives, which results in addressing different sorts of market needs.
Look at Houzz and Eventbrite for example. Houzz addresses the challenges of home remodeling while Eventbrite solves event planning logistics.
It’s not surprising that both companies were founded by women addressing a problem that millions of women experience all the time.
Given the scarcity of female founders who are funded by venture capital firms, it makes you wonder what other market problems could be solved through technology if there were more venture backed female entrepreneurs to solve them.
For venture firms, widening the pool of fundable entrepreneurs increases their odds of funding a wildly successful company addressing a huge market need.
Regarding company leadership, there are a number of studies that show diverse leadership teams outperform homogeneous teams. For example, McKinsey & Company studied 180 publicly traded companies from 2008 to 2010 and found that companies with the greatest diverse leadership experienced 53 percent higher returns on equity (ROE) than companies with the least diverse leadership.
From these results, it seems apparent that driving diversity and inclusion will help venture capitalists and companies improve their return on equity and build better performing teams.
Embracing Cultural - A Win-Win
Silicon Valley, and VC power brokers in particular, can and should embrace the role of cultural driver and consciously implement programs to manage unconscious bias in funding decisions, recruitment and team dynamics.
In other words, managing unconscious bias and driving inclusion should be a strategic priority spearheaded by the leadership team and not siloed off with the diversity officer who often lacks integration into functional business operations.
It starts with strategically recruiting women and minorities into leadership roles. Tap peer and social networks to find eligible candidates who are two or three degrees of separation away from you.
Dig a little bit deeper and don’t delegate this task to recruiters. Leaders should recruit other team leaders. At the same time, implement a system to manage unconscious bias in recruitment at all levels as well as team dynamics to ensure successful recruitment, engagement and retention.
Given Silicon Valley’s oversized influence, Silicon Valley can turn lemons into lemonade by consciously disrupting its brogrammer culture and modeling inclusion.
This shift will undoubtedly have a domino effect in other regions and trigger an “inclusion trend” that is good for all of us.
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