Research shows that more diverse teams perform better and are more innovative than homogeneous teams. I’ve written about this before, and it’s covered extensively in my book Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors.
We’ve made this an operating principle at Foundry. We encourage all our portfolio companies to add multiple independent directors and build diverse boards. I believe that boards with too many investors, without operator voices, are not what an early-stage or growth company needs. I’ve been willing to give up my board seat to make room for an independent director (for example, at Bolster.)
A few years ago, I attended a dinner I was invited to in Aspen hosted by Him for Her. I generally dislike these events but walked away impressed. The conversation was exciting and powerful, and I realized it extended my network with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Since that meeting, I’ve become a regular host and supporter of Him For Her, a non-profit organization that aims to accelerate board diversity. Over the next decade, they have a bold goal of dramatically increasing board diversity.
Their approach is simple: they host executive roundtables across the country (remote and in-person) and build curated referrals for board openings for free.
It works. We’ve received referrals for many companies and seated over a dozen new female board members.
I’m proud to support an organization that recently celebrated 100 board placements. Him for Her celebrated this milestone by ringing the bell at Nasdaq. 50% are first-time directors, 40% are women of color, 53% are full-time executives, and 10% are first-generation college graduates. They come from 25 different U.S. metropolitan areas. In addition, 28% of the board placements are for public companies, with the rest being private companies, although eight of those companies have gone public.
While leaving independent board seats empty or choosing someone you know is easy, this is risky. Diversity of experience and thought, along with an independent vs. investor perspective, is something every CEO can use, especially in this market environment.
Today is International Women’s Day.
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.
I’ve been fortunate to have many incredible women influence my life and how I think about gender and gender equity. My mother, Cecelia Feld, is the first of them.
My parents modeled excellent behavior for me as I was growing up. They were equal partners in their relationship. While they were an incredible couple, my mother was independent of my father. She was a leader in her community, unafraid to take on anything and unconstrained by the social norms of the time. As a full-time artist, she was ambitious professionally. She embraced her identity as a mother but also as a woman, a professional, and a lifelong learner.
When I went to college at MIT, which at the time was 80/20 male/female (they’ve made a lot of progress since 1983) and suddenly encountered a lack of gender equity everywhere, at least I had a baseline of what gender equity looked like.
Cecelia has explored working with many different media over the last 50+ years as an artist. She’s always been a photographer and extensively documented her travels with photographs. In honor of her on International Women’s Day 2023, please enjoy photographs of women from a few places in the world that my mother has taken over the years.
Last summer, I shifted my personal behavior around racism. I realized that I had spent the previous 20 years providing “passive” support to social justice causes. I decided that I’d spend the next 20 years actively helping to eliminate racism in America. That includes learning, doing, supporting, and being an accomplice.
At the end of last week, two articles written by CEOs in our portfolio made the rounds on our CEO list.
This first is from Xiao Wang, the CEO of Boundless. The article is an NBC OpEd titled Violence against Asian Americans means we must fight for ourselves, not just pursue success. It’s extraordinary (as is Xiao) and includes a gem in the middle of it.
For too long we’ve been passive observers, reveling in how much better America is compared to where we or our ancestors have come from, instead of actively shaping how good America could be.
Xiao’s son just turned one year old. He ends his OpEd with:
And, yes, I will make my son do his math homework and learn how to play piano, but I will also teach him how to be proud of who he is. He doesn’t need to be ashamed about the size of his head, his face flushing after a beer or his last name. I want him to grow up in an America that will treat him equally as a U.S. citizen, and not one where he will be asked “But where are you really from?”
But if they do, I want him to be sure of himself when he says, “The United States. Just like you.
Black founders need to own their resiliency and leverage the power that has resulted from their unique experiences. The victory mentality that ensues thereafter is the type of mindset that venture capitalists should want to invest in, and if they do not, they are undoubtedly missing out.
I’m glad I get to work with, learn from, and support Xiao and Craig.
We created the Techstars Foundation in 2015 to help make innovation and entrepreneurship more accessible and inclusive. Since then, the Techstars Foundation has been investing in and accelerating nonprofits that deliver scalable impact for underestimated entrepreneurs.
Through Accelerate Equity, the Techstars Foundation identifies early-stage nonprofits and ideas to empower and support underestimated entrepreneurs. Each non-profit has a significant nominating donor. We then call on the Techstars network to pitch in, provide mentorship, and add additional financial donations. The Techstars Foundation will add a 5% match to the total raised at the end of the calendar quarter.
If you are interested in supporting any of these organizations, please click on the respective link above or reach out to the Techstars Foundation. Or, for the three I’m involved in, drop me an email also, and I’ll make an appropriate connection.
Amy and I just underwrote one-year memberships to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce for 62 Black-owned businesses in Boulder.
Last summer, Aaron Clark started putting together a list of Black-owned Businesses in Boulder. The current list is at 62.
A few weeks ago, John Tayer at the Boulder Chamber mentioned an initiative he was working on with Aaron to get discounted memberships to all 62 companies. The Boulder Chamber is a long-standing and important part of the Boulder business community, and John has been a great leader for many years.
In an attempt to eliminate any friction associated with a decision for these 62 businesses to join the Boulder Chamber, Amy and I decided to underwrite their memberships for a year. I hope that all 62 will join, and the overall Boulder business community will engage deeply with and support these business owners.
I appreciate Aaron and John’s leadership enormously. I’ve gotten to know and work with Aaron on several initiatives over the past nine months, including participating in an equity learning initiative led by his firm Equity Solutions, supporting Justice Reskill, and experiencing a lot of equity activity Aaron has lead for Energize Colorado.
John recently did one of his Chamber Chats with Aaron. It’s a great overview of some of the work Aaron is doing, along with a discussion of Black History Month.
If you’d like an intro to Aaron or John, just email me.
A few months ago, Jasper Kuria reached out to me about a new non-profit he was starting called The Black-Owned Business. His goal is to create a community of vetted, high-quality Black-owned professional services companies.
Like many things Amy and I have been supporting around racial equity; this was an easy yes. I have not historically paid close attention to the gender or race of the service providers that we use. After almost six months of learning about racial inequity in the US and what I can do to help eliminate racism, supporting more Black-owned businesses is something I’m committed to.
Jasper has started a campaign called Do the BOB. It consists of providing your support and sending out the following message on social media.
Citi Group estimates that if four key racial gaps for the Black community (wages, education, housing, and investment) were closed today, the US economy would grow by $5 trillion in the next five years. What $5 Trillion can buy:
Help grow the US economy by $5 Trillion. During Black Friday season, ask your company or organization: Are you considering Black-owned Professional Services Companies when hiring vendors?
I request [@Friend One], [@Friend Two] and [@Friend Three] to also “Do The BOB” by sharing the logo and text on social media.
Learn More: https://www.theblackownedbusiness.org/do-the-bob
Update: After getting some negative feedback about taking the other post down, I decided to put it back up with an intro relating back to this post. I’ve left this post unedited.
I rarely take down a blog post.
After plenty of feedback and activity, I’ve decided to take down the post from last week titled A Conversation With Dan Caruso About Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club. The primary reason is the progress from the BCC board’s approach in the past week.
I received a lot of positive and negative feedback on the post. The feedback covered a wide range of topics, including:
Not surprisingly, there were a few ad-hominem attacks at Dan and me, but I’ve become used to that whenever I write something.
My personal goal with the post was to highlight a gender equity issue and reinforce that gender equity issues happen everywhere in our society, including at exclusive member-only country clubs. While often difficult to sort through and resolve, I think it’s vital to address equity issues at all levels.
Dan and I connected today after processing all the feedback and change in approach from the past week. I’m not involved in any of the BCC discussions, so I’m deferring to Dan’s assertion that there is positive change happening around the debate. Ultimately we didn’t feel like leaving the post up was necessary.
Since several people attacked me directly on my agenda, neither Amy nor I are golfers, so we are not directly impacted by the golf issue we brought up in the post. While we are members of the Boulder Country Club, Amy only plays tennis, and I probably haven’t been there in at least a year, so I’m not a very active member.
Regardless, I care that there is gender equity in anything I’m involved in, so I hope BCC addresses this matter in a manner that results in policies and practices that are equitable.
Update: on 11/1, I wrote an update post titled Progress on the Discussion Around Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club. It gives more context on the progress in the past week around this discussion along with some additional context on the motivation for this post.
Initially, I took this post down, which I rarely do. I then got negative feedback about taking the post down. Since I rarely take posts down, I decided to put it back up with this introduction. If you are seeing this post now, please also read Progress on the Discussion Around Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club.
Brad: Hey, Dan. Like Cindy and you, Amy and I are Boulder Country Club members, but we play tennis, not golf. Is it true that only men can golf on Saturday mornings?
Dan: Yes. Believe it or not, you must indeed be male to golf on Saturday mornings. There are a few exceptions. During the winter season, women can golf on Saturday mornings. Women can also use the 9-hole Par 3 course on Saturday mornings all year round.
Brad: Wow. Really? Women aren’t allowed to golf on the main course on Saturday mornings except during winter months?
Brad: That’s disappointing. Why is the policy of men-only golf on Saturday mornings still in place?
Dan: That’s a good question, Brad. I’m embarrassed to say that I never gave it much thought until recently. The past few months’ events have led us all to soul search on equity, with the primary focus being racial equity. As I reflected, I began to consider this BCC policy. It was very spontaneous. The thought came to me, and I challenged myself to bring it up to the Board Chairperson and the General Manager.
Brad: I understand a fellow venture capitalist is Board Chair. I don’t know the GM. Did you approach them?
Dan: Yes. I had a Zoom call with them in August, and we had an email exchange in the subsequent days.
Brad: What did they say?
Dan: They said this issue had been brought up only once in the past 20 years. They seemed surprised that this would be viewed as a gender equity matter. They pointed out that women leagues get exclusive use of the club during blocks of time on Tuesday and Thursday morning while men get exclusive use during Tuesday evening for a men’s league and Saturday morning for men’s only usage. They said they checked with some women golfers and that they preferred this setup.
Brad: That sounds like an episode of Mad Men.
Dan: Mad Men was a great series. It illustrated how much the norms of one generation would give way to a more progressive era. I figured now that Saturday golf for men only was surfaced, it would get quickly on a path to change this relic from our past.
Brad: Did they address it?
Dan: Not yet. And, to be honest, it is unclear whether they will. They are positioning this as a golf tee time preference instead of a gender equity issue. They believe most golfers might prefer the current format, where women get the course during certain weekdays and Saturday mornings are exclusive to men.
Brad: Amy and I are members of BCC. This is the first we are hearing about this issue. Do we get to weigh in?
Dan: As I understand it, they are preparing a general survey that they plan to send only to golfers.
Brad: I view this as a gender equity issue that pertains to all members of BCC. Does BCC have a gender equity policy?
Dan: I raised this question but have not yet received a complete answer. I’m told the application process includes statements of equity. I’ve asked if there is a statement in the Bylaws or elsewhere. I didn’t get a clear response, though a question was asked during the Annual Board meeting, and the answer suggested something is in place.
Brad: You’d think this would be an easy question to address. Strange. You know, Amy and I were taken aback by the Men’s vs. Women’s card rooms’ inequity. When we got a tour as part of our interview process to become members, I remember seeing the tiny Women’s card room that stood in stark contrast to the opulent Men’s card room. We almost didn’t join BCC for this reason alone. I understand the renovation is addressing this, at least in part, which is good. Are there other examples of gender inequities?
Dan: I don’t know. I’ve suggested that BCC do a more thorough review of equity, including gender, race, and sexual preference. Perhaps this will be part of the survey, though the survey is said to focus on golfers.
Brad: So let me get this straight. They are going to focus the survey on golfers. Aren’t most golfers men? Won’t many of them be conflicted by their desire to have Saturday’s reserved for men only?
Dan: Yes. They are conflicted. I know that a lot of male golfers enjoy their Saturday morning golf. Some of them, I learned, are reserved specific tee times on Saturday mornings. I respect that the tradition of men’s-only Saturday morning golf has been an important part of their lives. This is why the overall issue is uncomfortable to address. A Y-chromosome shouldn’t be a requirement for golfing on Saturday mornings.
Brad: Changing this policy seems like a no-brainer. After all, it is 2020, and this is Boulder.
Dan: The chatter is that many golfers prefer the current system and will lobby for no change.
Brad: That’s disappointing. Amy and I know lots of BCC members. I’d like to think they would rally around changing this policy.
Dan: Most, I suspect, don’t know about it. The Board and Golf Committee haven’t shared it with the broad membership. Moreover, they are viewing it as a tee time preference issue instead of a gender equity issue.
Brad: Why are you doing this? Is Cindy a golfer? I know you have daughters. Are they golfers?
Dan: Cindy is a golfer. One of our four daughters is a golfer. I have two step-granddaughters — one is a newborn, and one is two years old. The toddler took her first golf swing in September. She needs to work on shortening her backswing.
However, my reason for surfacing this is about our responsibilities as leaders in our community. Zayo has 600 employees in Boulder, and half are women. Level 3, which I helped found, has even more Boulder-area employees. I collaborate with leaders like you to drive more inclusion into the entrepreneurial and business ecosystems. Many past and future employees of all these companies have or will be members of BCC.
Everyone I know wants golf to be a more inclusive recreation from both a gender and a race perspective. Our policies and practices need to communicate that we value all golfers equally.
For all these reasons, I’ve concluded we shouldn’t look the other way while knowing our country club has a stale male-biased practice.
Brad: Are others behind you on this?
Dan: We raised it with others, but we have not campaigned on a widespread basis. Knowing this could be an explosive issue, I didn’t want to put our fellow members in an awkward position. We are hoping BCC will raise this to the broad BCC membership in an appropriate way.
Brad: When you’ve raised it with others, what has been the reaction?
Dan: Every single person (excluding board/committee members) we’ve approached has rallied behind the need to open up Saturday morning golf to women. Several business and community leaders have expressed this support to the BCC board. Again, we held back raising this except to a half dozen or so friends.
Brad: How’s your back?
Dan: What do you mean?
Brad: I suspect you are taking some arrows.
Dan: I’m a Chicago Southsider, a cancer survivor, and a serial entrepreneur. I have lots of scar tissue on my back. More importantly, though, I have friends who have my back. If you are reading this, you know who you are, and I thank you for your public and private support!!!
Brad: For what it is worth, please know that Amy and I have your back as well!
Rodney was one of the dozen Black colleagues I reached out to after George Floyd was murdered. I asked them each the question, “What are two things you are doing to eliminate racism that I can support you with time, network, and money?” If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve seen some of the Black colleagues and initiatives I’ve gotten involved with.
Rodney and I have embarked on several projects together. The DEIS Practicum is one of them. We selected “Practicum” rather than “Summit” or “Conference” to signal that this is a “how-to” experience rather than a “why not” event. Our goal is for DEIS to be different from other D&I conferences.
In Rodney’s words:
Instead, we are being intentional about how to support an increasing number of Black board members, founders, CEOs, teams, suppliers, and anti-racist products. DEIS will present practical solutions for startup teams, accelerators, ecosystem builders, investors, and big tech companies.
The agenda (full agenda here) includes the following discussions:
We chose to do this together right after the election to send a signal around the importance of acting now to actually work together to create change, especially around the economic case for DEI.
Tickets are affordable and all net proceeds from the DEIS Practicum will support OHUB Foundation. Tickets provide access to the entire event and include a copy of the following books.
Amy and I have helped underwrite this event from our Anchor Point Foundation. and I’m providing a copy of my newest book The Startup Community Way for free to all attendees. And, if you’d like to attend but can’t afford it, please drop me an email as some scholarships are available.
Please join us for the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Solutions (DEIS) Practicum.