Plenty of Silicon Valley elites know that diversity and inclusion are huge problems for their companies. But figuring out how to fix that problem has been a lot less clear. Now, a group called All Raise is trying to jump-start the conversation by bringing together about 80 venture-backed founders to share their experiences and to help each other build stronger company cultures. The event will be on August 13 in San Francisco, with speakers including LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman and Silicon Valley recruiter Jana Rich.
All Raise was formed in April, when 34 women venture capitalists came together to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion in their industry. All Raise's main goals are to double the percentage of women venture capitalists, which is currently at about 8 percent, and to double the share of funding that goes to women entrepreneurs. In one All Raise initiative, called Founders for Change, about 800 founders signed a statement saying that diversity would be "an important consideration" in their choice of venture capital backers. The event Monday is free of charge, open to anyone, and will be held at the Wharton School's San Francisco campus on Embarcadero.
All Raise is "trying to desensitize the subject of diversity and inclusion," says Jenny Lefcourt, a member of All Raise and a general partner at venture firm Freestyle Ventures. "We're trying to make it this journey that everyone is on together. If we only work on it in our own silos, we're only going to get so far."
Ryan Rzepecki, CEO of electric bike company Jump, which was acquired by Uber in April, worked in city government for New York before becoming an entrepreneur. He's one of the entrepreneurs planning to attend. While raising funds for Jump, he was struck by the homogeneity of venture capital. "It wasn't nearly as diverse as the other worlds I had participated in," he says. "I saw that there was a narrow spectrum of ideas getting backing, and a narrow spectrum of founders getting backing."
Tim Westergren is also among those who plan to attend the event. He says he's been thinking about issues of diversity and inclusion ever since he started Pandora 18 years ago. He says that when he looks back at Pandora's early days and its trial by fire, including working without regular pay for two years, he is convinced that company culture is the reason Pandora survived. If you've got a tech company, he says, yes, you need your product. But after that, company culture is the single most important thing a leader needs to work on.
"That's really about how you treat each other in the workplace," Westergren says. "And one of the big dimensions of that is gender. It's arguably one of the most fundamental dynamics in the workplace."
While Westergren was with Pandora, he says about half of his employees were women. The company was more heavily men at the higher ranks: Two of its six executive team members were women, as were two of its seven board members.
Westergren says he realized early on that, as a leader, he needed to make space for leadership styles that weren't stereotypically male. The alternative was to lose the potential of a huge chunk of his workforce. He had to try to be, he says, "the consciousness-raiser," intervening when a shy person didn't speak up or when a more aggressive person co-opted the ideas of a less blustery colleague.
Still, he says, he's deeply aware that his is "only one experience." He's attending the conference to learn about concrete examples from other people. "I just know it will broaden and deepen my understanding," he says.
Westergren says an inclusive culture belongs in a company's stated principles, right from its founding. "If you create principles," Westergren says, "then you have the chance to live by them."