We tuned into TechCrunch’s online interview, Extra Crunch Live with Sydney Sykes, in which TC’s managing editor, Jordan Crook, and senior reporter, Megan Rose Dickey, interviewed BLCK VC co-founder Sydney Sykes, who spoke about the need for greater diversity in the world of venture capital, and ways that all of us can make change – whether or not we are in positions of leadership. One overarching need that was agreed-upon by all three participants in this interview was this:
We cannot stop now.
We cannot stop in a few weeks, months, or even years. Sykes and her team have been working for years to bring the serious lack of diversity in venture capital to the attention of their colleagues.
“We’ve had protests before, we’ve had police brutality before, but not much has changed.” – Sydney Sykes
A word of ‘cautious optimism’
She, along with the TechCrunch staff, shared their sentiment of “cautious optimism” when talking about the effects of the widespread Black Lives Matter protests and activism across the United States, and Sykes issued a clear call to action for commitment for lasting change from tech and VC firms:
“All these companies are saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, all these companies are donating, and the truth is, in my mind, donating and posting statements doesn’t change the way your company works, and doesn’t change the way the industry works. So, when I hear those statements, that’s the part where I’m jaded and where I feel pessimistic that some things won’t change.
Where I feel really optimistic is, I’m seeing these employees at tech companies and I’m seeing the citizens saying, ‘No, you can’t just say Black Lives Matter – you need to actually live this.’ And there’s this recognition now from the bottom up – a real grassroots effort – to say, ‘You need to change what you’ve been doing because it hasn’t worked.’ And I think these companies have been and will continue to react to what their employees and what their customers are saying. So, I am more optimistic than I’ve ever been. That being said, I’m still a black woman in America and I do not think that what’s going on will cure racism in any way. I’m optimistic – I know things will be better in the future, in a month from now, than they were a month ago.”
She finished her thoughts with a note of that cautious optimism: “How much better? We’ll have to wait and see. I’m excited to see what the change will be.”
Reddit leads the way with real action
As conversation turned to the move that Alexis Ohanian made when he stepped down from Reddit’s board with a request to be replaced by a black candidate (which Reddit honored by bringing Y Combinator CEO Michael Siebel onto their board), Sykes shared her support of the introspection, action, and call for action that Ohanian displayed with this decision:
“I think someone on a board stepping down and saying you don’t have enough representation – and, therefore, you are not having the best advice and leadership and guidance that you can have – I think that’s an important thing for communities and leaders to keep saying again and again, because I’m really tired of hearing ‘diversity matters’ without hearing why. So, if you’re going to step down and you’re saying, ‘You need to have a more diverse board,’ I think that’s an actionable stance that also reflects the idea that any company that doesn’t have diverse leadership is uninformed in some way, and does not have full perspective.”
A call-to-action for tech companies to be more transparent
Besides bold words and actions, Sykes asked for tech companies to be transparent about their internal data around diversity, asking them to write down and track their numbers month after month, even if it’s not pretty.
“It’s really important for people within firms, existing GPs and investors, to be aware of how big the issue is. If you don’t write it down, you don’t have to recognize what you’re missing and what is lacking. I’m not optimistic that, in the next couple of years, as firms start writing down their data, that they will suddenly be representative of the U.S. population, or that they will be recognizing the value. But, I also think it’s a bit of a snowball effect. If you get more diverse talent in the door or in the network – or, at least on the radar – then you’re thinking about diversity more when you do your investment, when you host your events, when you’re expanding what the ecosystem looks like, even though it’s not going to change right away.”
How venture capital should change
The venture capital world could use a healthy dose of transparency, too. More people should be able to participate in the entrepreneurial economy, whether that’s as an entrepreneur or, more likely, as an investor. At Doriot, we believe that venture capital education is vital to leveling the playing field and inviting more people to play the game historically reserved for a tiny percentage of potential investors. Those who have been disenfranchised or excluded from even learning about this, often cryptic, world are being shut out of some of the biggest wealth-generating opportunities. This disproportionately affects communities – predominantly of people of color – without access to education, financial resources, and networks of entrepreneurs and investors. If people of color don’t even know the rules of the game, how can they play? The Doriot team is out to change that – to make venture capital and startup investing accessible to all.
Doriot has been and will continue to be a dedicated resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the world of VC – both before and after the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement’s much needed resurgence. We have been offering a book for first-time founders – used as a textbook at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and many other universities across the country – free for anyone to download on our site. We will be continuing to offer more resources as we ramp up our efforts to demystify and democratize venture Capital, and will support the efforts of people like Ms. Sykes and organizations like BLCK VC.
With that in mind, we think it’s appropriate to leave you with the words from a recent Medium post from BLCK VC and we encourage you to read the entire article, and learn more about their work:
“Venture Capital is one of these unjust systems. It is a system of funding entrepreneurs that has routinely overlooked talented Black founders and investors, squashing promising businesses and dreams as a result. It is time for venture to face the ugly reality that it is a system perpetuating the institutional racism that plagues our society. Venture prides itself on being progressive. We disrupt industries…Yet, venture is one of the most homogeneous and exclusive clubs there is. More than 80% of venture firms don’t have a single black investor and just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black.”
We hope everyone reading this will help us change this narrative – via transparency, hiring practices, investment portfolios, and most importantly, constantly and relentlessly asking ourselves and our leaders:
What more can we do?
We encourage you to start by checking out the full transcript and video of Extra Crunch Live with Sydney Sykes over at TechCrunch, where they have also compiled a great list of resources to learn more about #BlackLivesMatter and how you can be the best advocate, activist, and citizen you can be.