Everyone sees difference, so leverage it: Supporting Diverse Entrepreneurs - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Feb. 6, 2014 8:45 am

Everyone sees difference, so leverage it: Supporting Diverse Entrepreneurs

The best way to overcome obstacles for underrepresented entrepreneurs is to get more such people starting companies and succeeding.
Supporting Diverse Entrepreneurs panel, Jessica Banks speaking.

Supporting Diverse Entrepreneurs panel, Jessica Banks speaking.

Photo by Brady Dale

A previous version of this post incorrectly identified a speaker at the end of the post. 9:09 am 2/6/2014.

The goal isn’t to remove any superficial decision-making. Too many factors go into our decision-making, not just race and gender but clothing and first-impressions and more. Instead, the goal is to be aware of our own biases and challenge ourselves to be aware of them. This was a point that the panel on diversity in entrepreneurship agreed on at Tuesday’s Diversity In/Tech conference at Building 92.

The panel included Gauri Nanda, cofounder of Toymail and founder of Nanda Home (we wrote about her work here), Jessica Banks, founder at RockPaperRobot and William Crowder, an early investor in startups with DreamIt and Comcast Ventures. Christopher Wink, Technical.ly editor and cofounder moderated the panel.

Listen to the full audio below:

Crowder addressed the colorblind issue first, saying that once people accept the fact that we all see difference, we can start to deal with the repercussions of that simple truth. Social media are still helping maintain divisiveness, Crowder said. Too many people are ready to attack when someone says something insensitive about inclusiveness, but he said it needs to get beyond that. “I’d like to see the conversation get beyond the Twitter flare-ups.”

Some takeaways from this third panel from Diversity In/Tech:

  • A founder can use difference to their advantage. Nanda said that she often felt empowered being one of the only women in her classes at MIT. Banks said she’s more often than not found being a woman founder a benefit. Any opportunity to stand out can be used for founders, they said. (The other side of that challenge is a network effect discussed throughout the day)
  • Investors need to get the success of people of color and women put in front of them. Crowder said, of investors, “The more we have diverse, successful entrepreneurs, the more inclined they are to bring different people into the consideration set.”
  • The perceived female approach to supervising can be an advantage. Banks described different approaches to work, for example saying, “One of the things that’s really hard for me about being a boss is I am always aware of people’s emotional status.” That said, she also noted that it probably also makes her more in tune with her staff’s morale.
  • On asking yourself what people are reacting to: Nanda has worked with a lot of contractors in her work. When she finds something off in an interaction, she wonders if it’s because she’s a woman, but she can’t know. “The way to solve it is to bring more diversity into the workspace,” she said.
  • There are trade-offs in being different. Both Nanda and Banks told standing out as women and getting opportunities or courtesies that might not have otherwise been extended. They can’t know what they miss because of the same difference.

Of the stresses and glories of building a business generally, Nanda described it as equal parts exciting and overwhelming. Banks concurred, “My life awesomely sucks.” Meaning, she gets to do great things, the work never ends but she also has a lot of freedom.

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