Diversity & Inclusion

What’s going to happen after Philly Startup Leaders’ tense Diversity Dinner?

The night yielded a few moments of drama and at least three actionable steps. Only time will tell if they'll be enough.

Here's what went down at the 2nd Annual Diversity Dinner. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

Philly Startup Leaders’ second annual Diversity Dinner, co-organized by nonprofit Mogulette, drew 230 attendees to Bok Wednesday for a night of soul searching. The Philadelphia tech community was there to discuss one of its biggest challenges: accurately and fairly representing itself.

Attended by Mayor Jim Kenney, Comcast’s David Cohen and City Councilman Allan Domb, the evening came on the heels of a tumultuous shakeup of the nonprofit’s leadership, the result of a tense discussion between former PSL executive director Yuval Yarden and Little Giant Creative founder Tayyib Smith.

(Though she kept a low profile, Yarden was in attendance Wednesday night, joining a table discussion with Cohen, ROAR for Good’s Yasmine Mustafa and MilkCrate CEO Morgan Berman.)

The dinner itself also had its fair share of tension: IOPipe cofounder Erica Windisch, originally scheduled to speak, was bumped from the schedule and made it known during a town-hall like discussion.

Windisch, a trans woman, later returned to the space and delivered a powerful speech on the need to “clean our house” and enact policies that improve equality and inclusion across Philadelphia (not just in the tech scene).

“We need to face our problems together, but first we need to clean our house,” Windisch said.

Per Brigitte Daniel, founder of Mogulette and exec at Wilco Electronics, the evening was a sign of “growing consensus and urgency” around the need to improve on diversity and inclusion. While the results of the table discussions are still being processed by the group, here are three specific outcomes of the evening, according to Daniel:

  • A city-wide tech community “manifesto” will be created, which will pledge intentional engagement to better diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Advocate for disclosure and transparency of tech startup hiring demographics to build metrics of accountability.
  • A quarterly PSL / Mogulette meeting to establish conversations around normalizing tech diversity.

The qualm from many event attendees: last year’s event also yielded a list of actions, including the need for startups to create programs aimed at diversity and inclusion. When, during the town hall discussion, a community member asked which companies had such programs in place, maybe ten percent of the hands went up.

The set of proposed outcomes this year at least partially address what attendee Tiffanie Stanard, founder of Stimulus, said she’d like to see happen next: actionable steps by individuals and groups (collectively) “not in another year but throughout any event or program planned.”

Stanard suggested forming a committee within organizations like PSL that makes sure any “open to the public” events have a diverse representation of organizers, topics, speakers and attendees.

PSL President Bob Moore said his takeaway from the evening was the need for entrepreneurs to take diversity and inclusion as seriously as they take building their companies.

“The success of the two are linked, after all, both directly and indirectly,” Moore said Thursday in an email. “Like building a long-lasting company, the work is never done: it only gets more important as you make progress (and missteps) along the way.”

As the organization works on the notes gathered from the evening, Moore said the goal will be to share realistic, actionable steps that the community can take to accelerate the progress.

Look, there was no way the headline today was going to be “Diversity Dinner ends with diversity challenges fixed forever.” The event did, however, manage to bring a sense of urgency to the discussion, perhaps reframed due to the specific challenges from Tayyib Smith for accountability and transformational change.

For those who, like Smith, call for tangible outcomes from the dinner, here’s one promising result via StratIS VP of Business Adelaide Braddock:

“Communities need more exposure to one another, both personally and professionally,” Braddock told Technical.ly in a Twitter DM. “I am talking to other participants from last night about creating local programs specifically around that, and the StratIS team is now creating a program for an internal program to create positive exposure for our individuals to one another.”


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