I am tired of going to tech events and there being no lines for the women’s restrooms. Or getting T-shirts that are only men’s fit. My Latina co-founder just said over my shoulder that she is tired of constant assumptions that she is probably not the CEO. (She is, and she’s a great one.)
I co-founded Alice with a goal to help 6 million entrepreneurs launch and grow. We prioritised women and people of colour, then opened up to the rest of the population. We set off on a mission to move mountains that, well, a whole lot of people in the entrepreneur world aren’t motivated to move (which means, by the way, that they are leaving a lot of money on the table). The old-school funding and partnership networks work for the people they always worked for: mostly white males in New York and San Francisco. They just didn’t work for the rest of us – the ‘new majority’ of business owners.
It’s time to forget the term ‘minority’ when it comes to business owners. The new majority – women, people of colour, veterans, people in smaller markets, people identifying as LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities – now start more businesses than our white male counterparts. There are 543,000 businesses launched every month in the US, and this shift to more diverse representation at the top of companies means different problems are being solved, more customers are being served and there is more money to be made. Statistics show that when diverse owners receive the same capital as their white male counterparts, their returns are equal or better. So the financial bet here is solid.
In serving new majority business owners, we often hear reluctance from potential investors and enterprise partners because a) they don’t know the success data around this group; b) they don’t want to change; and c) they are straight-up biased. There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion without really walking the walk.
Our goal is to show that building networks of diverse owners brings new customers and more strategic partnerships, and increases financial returns. Two years into running Alice, we see that conscious focus on inclusivity yielding vibrant communities of support and, ultimately, higher levels of success for new majority business owners.
For new majority entrepreneurs to find their place, they must see themselves represented and have access to resources and opportunities that will help them grow their companies. Be part of building your own inclusive community. It’s not hard – in fact, these are three key lessons we’ve learned.
Expand your network
When is the last time you went to a networking event outside of your gender, ethnicity or industry? The most important factor in building an inclusive community is to expand your network. We all tend to interact with people who share similar backgrounds and experiences; while that’s fine for your Bumble profile, it can limit your understanding of other communities and customers, and lead to blind spots. Make contact with leaders in the communities you’re hoping to engage, then ask them what they need and what solutions they recommend. Really listen – then, most importantly, take action.
Pass the microphone
The 2019 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) had more women and people of colour on panels than ever. However, I kept noticing that the louder, typically represented voices dominated the topics. Part of building an inclusive community means freeing the voices that aren’t usually invited to speak up. Give space, and take a backseat so those underrepresented community members can lead discussions, lay out ground rules, strategise and define priorities. Call on those who don’t naturally raise their hands. Change isn’t going to happen until we hand over the microphone.
Fostering inclusivity and building community isn’t about reaching some end point. It requires check-ins with your community members and customers, sustained trust, change and a commitment to improvements. When there are missteps (and there almost certainly will be), listen, learn and adapt. And stay with it – each pebble your community manages to shifts gets all of us one step closer to moving those mountains for good.
Hello Alice is a WeWork member in San Francisco; Houston; and Washington, D.C.