Last January 31st, APX hosted our first Get-Together of 2019, on the topic “How to improve diversity in startup investing?”. At the headquarters of the Berlin startup accelerator, a panel of four experts on tech and investment told us all about their experiences and discussed future prospects.
Diversity in the tech world has quickly become one of the most talked about subjects of the past decade. As we push towards a thrilling technological era, we’re still observing a clear dissonance between the industry’s founding pilar – the advancement of human society – and its circumscribed core mentality. How can we hope for great technological improvement in the near future, if our inclusion policies are still clinging to the past?
The statistics have spoken: the 93% vs. everyone else.
A 2018 study, conducted by the State of European Tech, found that an outstanding 93% of the capital invested into tech companies went to all-male founding teams. On the other hand, it’s common knowledge that companies with women CEOs (Fortune 1000) perform about three times better than the S&P’s 500 (Quantopian, 2015).
Furthermore, when it comes to minorities, the statistics for Europe are borderline nauseating: over half the people of black, African and Caribbean ancestry have experienced discrimination, followed by a third of Asians. Likewise, one out of ten LGBT men also report sexual discrimination in their workplaces.
As one would expect, living in a racist, sexist, classicist and homophobic society floods all realms of our daily lives, and the omnipresent tech scene is, by all means, not immune to this. Cassandra Pope (Senior Digital Experience Program Manager at Zalando), puts it this way: “inclusion means that this group that should be represented has a seat at the table. (…) It’s one thing if a company says ‘we’re diverse, we have all these nationalities, we have all these women’, and then you look into the glass window of meetings with the VPs and it’s all men. For me it would be inclusive if someone like myself, a non-white straight man, had a seat at that table and a voice at those discussions”.
“It’s one thing if a company says ‘we’re diverse, we have all these nationalities, we have all these women’, and then you look into the glass window of meetings with the VPs and it’s all men. For me it would be inclusive if someone like myself, a non-white straight man, had a seat at that table and a voice at those discussions”.
Conversely, guest Jag Singh (Managing Director of Techstars Berlin) talks about inclusion being a two way process: “it’s not just about the company saying ‘these are the steps we’re taking to become inclusive’; it’s actually about the people at the bottom of the ladder saying ‘these are the steps I want to take’.
Like most epidemics, the lack of diversity starts at the root: with investment.
Some say that a startup is only as good as their service’s potential to revolutionise the current market. Others would shift the focus to its founding team. Our speaker Joerg Boldt, the founding Managing Director of APX, lays it out as follows: “Humans have really good ideas and whenever I have the chance, I just want to (…) allow potential to develop. And what we try to do here, with a little bit of a romantic idea, but also with that hardcore capitalist idea, is to invest in the right humans who have good ideas (…). We just need to find the right people to invest in.”
Of course, like Joerg said, this is quite the romantic approach. We’re all creative beings, capable of the most astounding ideas, but the world isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, and creativity can only take you so far. Most times, what determines whether you move further up the ladder is the tone of your skin, the people you fall in love with, the way your present your gender, and not your hard work or your brilliant concept. Ascending to the place where you can actually launch a startup, and present your goals to investors, is a lottery of multiple factors, and the lack of an “impressive” educational background can take a big toll on that climb. A founder in the audience specifically remembers a negative experience with a Berlin investor, since nobody on his team had gone to Stanford. In response, he stated that a co-founder went to the best university in India which, according to the investor, “doesn’t count”.
From the investor point of view, speaker Judith Dada’s method for guaranteeing diversity lies in a mix of ingredients: analysing communicative patterns, accounting for social backgrounds and adjusting one’s mindset of looking through that. “For a certain type of founder, you need to develop this bullshit radar, and then for other types of founders you see the potential and you (…) even help them to kind of activating it within the conversation”, says the Principal from La Famiglia.
How can investors and startuppers join forces to combat inequality?
At some point, Joerg offers networking as a means for people to know which accelerators and VCs are the best to approach. “Come to an evening like this, talk to people here. Ask them ‘what are your experiences with investors’, ‘who should you pitch to’, ‘who are good investors.” Whereas this is good advice, it’s still not a solution.
Truth is, diversity statistics don’t alter themselves by others saying “just go and get a better education”, “just go and found your company”, or “just go and network”. Networking, for example, appears to be a simple notion, but not everyone has the same entry points, or the same sustenance from the people that surround them, in order to better take advantage of these opportunities. Similarly, as the people before us have paved the way for a more inclusive industry, they have also motivated the next great generation of founders to follow their steps – seeing yourself represented is essential.
In 2018, 45% of European female investors did not find the tech industry inclusive. Jag illustrates this with a very common practice: asking different questions to young entrepreneurs based on their gender. “When a woman is presenting her startup, the questions are a little bit more negative in terms of ‘how will you make sure you don’t lose (…) this market?’ versus questions that were pointed towards males, which was a lot more ‘ok, how can you take this from 20 thousand to a 100 thousand?” The Angel investor claims that the industry has already acknowledged this phenomenon, and has tried different solutions to fix it. Inversely, when you’re asked a negative question, Jag also says you should highlight that you have a completely unique experience from your competitors.
So does this actually mean that you should come out during a pitch? While being honest about your background can be interpreted as brave by the rare few (according to Jag, at least), our moderator Katie Campbell has a different take on the matter. “I know that for VCs [being gay], it does matter (…), people are very conservative.” The Head of Brand and Communications at APX says she has met VCs who were uncomfortable with her being gay, something she “doesn’t really advertise”. So while she thinks that you don’t need to state your sexuality at a pitch, it’s still “a hindrance, because people know that if they come out as gay, they might not get funding.” Another unicorn, who is a gay VC partner, has a more positive outlook and reinforces that founders only need one investor. “I can go to LPs, which are more conservative than VCs, and tell them: we are actually trying to solve diversity. And we’re not a diversity fund, we’re a tech fund”.
Promptly offering his perspective, an audience member tells us that we’re seeing things from the wrong prism, as if there isn’t much to be done on the founder side. He provides the American example, saying that it’s always been difficult for minorities to get VCs to listen to them, and what changed it was a combination of aspects, amongst them government involvement through affirmative action policies. “It’s the same phenomenon but on a VC scale”.
Change doesn’t happen overnight.
Last year, only half of European tech companies had a diversity and inclusion policy. “Inclusion means living the struggle”, says Judith. “It’s not going to be easy. ‘Yesterday we weren’t inclusive, today we are inclusive’. It’s a fight (…) and it takes energy, but people willing to do that will reap the benefits from it”.
For the investor community, spending more time with diverse founders and expanding standards can actually have the biggest impact. “Even if their vision is not as bold as other founders’, there is still potential to be reactivated, even if it takes longer”. On an institutional level, we could also rely on early education and government action; for example, Joerg proposes that our children learn about digital literacy and entrepreneurship at school.
On the other side of the table, founders are advised to do solid research on the investors they approach, to network frequently within the circles that better fit their goals and, especially, to be bold and proud of their background. By shining a light on your unique perspective, you can let the investor know what sets you apart from the next entrepreneur.
In the January 31st Get-Together at APX, we actually reached a unanimous conclusion. “To create outliers, you have to be able to identify the differences in people and bring them together”, says Judith. “No one looks like the next great entrepreneur, and we need to widen the net of what we deem is excellent, in order to find (…) the next great unicorns.”
Unicorns in Tech is a global network for the LGBT+ tech community. It’s the ideal place for anyone interested in technology and tech science, whether they are an industry professional or a casual enthusiast. From creative to nerdy, our mission is to connect and inspire.
On a monthly basis, we organise get-together events, hosted by proud companies. Our next events are in Düsseldorf (METRONOM, February 19th) and Berlin, for a LGBT+ Women Special Edition (PROJECT A, March 7th).
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Created on June 28, 2014, Unicorns in Tech is turning 4 years old this year! To celebrate this event, let’s look back at the Unicorns in Tech history, successes and foresee what the future will bring.
How to reach your innate potential and believe in yourself? By Jazmin Medrano
It is a good day today, Unicorns! And we are here to give you some treat or better yet, another blog post! This time a special, inspirational message to us all from Jazmin Medrano.
Jazmin is a transformational coach, TEDx speaker, trainer, and artist. She is passionate about [self] expression, transformation, human dynamics, and healing power. Her lively, wise, inviting & entrepreneurial spirit supports individuals and companies to become aware of their limitations, unleash their truth and innate potential, and be in alignment with their purpose. She firmly believes that everyone has a unique power within them that is meant to be discovered, expressed, and shown for the world to experience. As a performance artist, she works and evolves in the realm of inviting and giving space for people to come more into contact with themselves, by way of channeling these energies and expressing them upon a blank canvas using charcoal and body (in kinetic form).
” Through many years of diving into my core and supporting others in their own transformational journey, I found that the content of this blog post was needed in order to promote a taste of freedom, expansion, and power. I’ve experienced that the majority of mankind strongly resonates to a collective conditioning that exudes fear, blame, lack of self-responsibility, suppression of one’s individuality, and more. My intrinsic motivation to write this came from my intention to spread awareness of what I perceive supports others in not conforming to mediocrity or a fear-based and reactionary way of life; but rather to live a love-based, freeing and creational way of life.”
Suggested song to listen to as you read the blog post: Dom La Lena – Batuque (Jeremy Sole & Atropolis Remix)
” My message to you, me, and the world…
Discover who you truly are. Ask yourself the question that you don’t want to ask yourself. Explore undiscovered parts of yourself to better understand yourself, how you interact with yourself and the rest of the world. Unlearn and let go of anything within and without that doesn’t serve you in becoming the best version of yourself. Figure out what it is that you truly want in life. Give yourself the space to JUST BE. Don’t get caught up in having to DO so much. Life is about being, not doing… we are human BEINGS after all and not human DOINGS.
“Ask yourself the question that you don’t want to ask yourself.”
Find that spark within you, that spark in your heart that just wants to be seen. Whatever is in your heart, let that lead the way. And use your mind to support you in leading the path that your heart craves to walk. When an opportunity you like arises yet you think to yourself “I can’t do that”, “I’m not qualified to do that”, or thoughts alike, do me a favor and tell those thoughts to stop and go take a long ass sabbatical because you ARE going to take that opportunity.
Remember this, if an opportunity comes your way, it’s because you CAN do it. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t follow the herd out of reaction. Whether you follow or lead, make sure it’s the path that you chose to take. Trust yourself, believe in yourself. You have a unique gift, yes, YOU. Everyone has a unique gift to show and express to the world. Don’t be afraid to show what that is. You weren’t given life to be anyone else other than you. STOP trying to be someone else… you are YOU. You don’t see an apple trying to be a kale. You don’t see Bill Gates trying to be Kanye West. Accept yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself as much as you wish others to love you.
Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. And even if you are afraid, don’t let that stop you from moving forward with how your heart wants to live.
If there’s anyone in your life you want to change, DON’T do it. The only person you can change is yourself and no one else. When you focus on your own journey and on becoming the best version of you, you will notice a change in your surroundings. Why? Because you have an impact in the world; whether you see it or not. Become aware of what that impact is. If you’re not aware, ask. If it’s not true to the essence of who you are, reflect and take a dive deep within yourself to see what needs to be aligned and transformed. Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. And even if you are afraid, don’t let that stop you from moving forward with how your heart wants to live.
Know your boundaries. Learn how to say NO when it’s not true for you. You may lose people around you the more true you become. Be ok with that. What is the point of having people around you that don’t want what is best for you? Only you know what’s best for you and no one else.
Take responsibility for your life. It’s not your partners, friends, family, boss, or colleagues responsibility to take care of you. If you want something, ASK for it. If there’s a situation you want changed, do something about it. Don’t refrain yourself because you think it’s not appropriate. Notice what happens when you stand up for your truth and what you believe in. Don’t underestimate yourself. Learn what unconsious limiting beliefs are ruling your life and transform those little f***ers with love so you can be free to consciously create your life.
Focus on creating instead of consuming and binging on social media, alcohol, work, drugs, TV, books, etc. You’re an innate creative being who needs to consume the essential things to get by, and not the other way around. Discover what your creative essence is, everyone has it. And move towards that great potential and vision that you have. Breathe your potential.
Allow yourself to be. Stand your ground and stand tall for who you are. Be you, be free, be love, and live the life you want… free of inhibitions.”
Click here to find out about her next talks and appearances, read her blogs and see where you can follow her on social media!
Women in the IT and Tech World – a small insight into Natalie’s experience in this field
Numbers, codes and highly logical thinking – is there space for intuitive femininity in this field? Absolutely! It is sure to say that IT and technology is a field in which women have already excelled. Although still in minority, this field is strongly represented by women!
Founder of Women Techmakers Berlin (WTMB), Natalie Pistunovich talks about her experiences, downfalls and highlights, in the industry.
As a true tech enthusiast, she has been involved in this area since high school and has continued her pursuit by graduating with a B.Sc in Computer and Software Engineering from the Technion in Israel. Her CV has a vast variety of accomplishments including co-founding Connta in Nairobi and working at Adjust and Intel. Now next to being a co-organiser of WTMB, she is a Backend Developer at GreyMeta, co-founder of GopherCon Iceland and co-organiser of GDG Golang Berlin.
Nowadays the topic of quotas for women, and women being able to do what men are able to do – is a topic that is brought up pretty often. Do you think there are more women in tech comparing to how it used to be in your career?
“I think that even without quotas, some companies just make the decision of setting a goal to have more women, and they are actively working to pursue it: by accepting people who are changing their career, by wording their job descriptions in ads, and by making themselves accessible when engaging with meet-ups and organisations that are focused on bringing more women to tech.”
“In university we were about 10% women in the first 2 years, and in years 3-4 when you’d take specialised classes, I fell in love with Computer Architecture and was in the situation of about 2 women in a class with 20 men. In my first full time job the tech team was about 10 people and I was the only woman. When the team grew to around 25 people, the number of women gradually grew to 5. In my current job the numbers are brighter – 2 out of the 4 Backend Developers are women (and it becomes 2 out of 10 if you look at the entire tech team).”
Overcoming barriers as a woman
“It took me a long time to own my airtime in team discussions, and I am still working constantly on improving it. A big part of that is celebrating the small steps. I am looking back and remembering how in the beginning of my career I could sit silently through an entire meeting, and how today I fight my instinct, to stop talking if someone interrupts me, and actively remind myself to finish my sentence, instead of being interrupted. And most of the time I succeed in doing that.”
Self-identity in the workplace
“I am really thorough. And when I am looking into new subjects, whether it’s a suggested feature, or a new part of the code base, I always dig in deep, and ask many questions. And that’s why usually when I start a conversation with my CTO with “Good morning”, he responds with “Natalie, no bad news before 12!”
Since I joined, I drove awareness about importance of comprehensive testing. I also believe that the best way to learn something is to try and explain it. So I introduced the concept of tech talks in the company: once a week we are dedicating one hour to discuss a technical subject. It can be a new technology we consider using, or just a tool someone heard about and thought it would be cool to explore together. Even members from the sales team asked to join, so they can keep being with the hand on the pulse about industry trends when talking to clients!”
” When I am looking into new subjects, whether it’s a suggested feature, or a new part of the code base, I always dig in deep, and ask many questions “
Conquering the difficulties of life
“Waking up on a bad day, when you have a bug for a few days, personal life isn’t going well, and typing the first few lines of code. Everyone is facing big challenges when they are least prepared for it, but you also know it’s going to be behind you eventually. Low times are something that will come again and again in your life, and powering through them is the biggest challenge for me. My trick to tackle those is to be more forgiving, and accept that sometimes things will be bad, because something needs to balance those amazing days.”
Guiding principles for success as a software developer
“Ask lots of questions, have a good test suite and document your work and write your code in a clear way. Language can bring misunderstandings, and so can code. Especially if it’s more sophisticated than straight-forward. In the last year I was mostly writing Go code, and this aligns really well with the language principals. For example, there is a build-in linter, and the styling guideline is readability and simplicity over sophistication and shortcuts.”
Natalie’s future ambitions and challenges
“One of my biggest professional challenges for 2018 is organising a conference for 550+ Go developers in Iceland: gophercon.is. It’s going to take place on 31/05-03/06, and it’s scary, hard and exciting and is turning out to be a great journey.”
What would be 3 things you would have told your past self (as well as young women in tech industry) to do/not to do if you have had a chance?
- “Do more of what scares you. There is a reason that we all heard the cliche that you grow way faster outside of your comfort zone.
- Learn more. There is so much out there to know, and after you’ve learnt a lot, you will reach a point where you start understanding how much you don’t know, and it’s usually the start of an exciting journey.
- And my motto: this too shall pass. Keeps me through the bad times, and reminds me to cherish the good times.”
” Everyone is facing big challenges when they are least prepared for it, but you also know it’s going to be behind you eventually “
About Women Techmakers Berlin
“At WTMB we have been encouraging diversity in tech in Berlin since 2015. In our 4th year in, our team has grown to 10 organisers. We have had over 120 events for thousands of attendees, all on a voluntary basis. Our participants get visibility, networking possibilities and resources to make the tech community of Berlin diverse and inclusive. WTMB is part of the global WTM program, run by Google.
While the name can suggest our focus is only on women – it’s not. We are working with people of all genders, we are also helping refugees, parents or just people in their 40s to get a job in tech. As a matter of fact, we are now working on an event where our graduates will share their stories and make themselves available to inspire and guide people who are looking into doing this step themselves.”
Women are powerful IT and digital drivers.
HERE’S WHY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY IS IMPORTANT TO UNICORNS IN TECH
Take a guess, how many tech startups do you think are owned by women? When I asked the women in the Unicorns in Tech office, they guessed none. They were hardly far off – according to Women Who Tech, only five percent of tech startups are owned by women.
Then I asked the girls “do you think more women will own tech startups in the future?” Their answer was definitely. It is nice to hear that they have confidence for the future of women in tech but to implement this and make a change, we need role models.
Where are all the women in tech? Much ink has been spilled answering this question, and one answer might be – they are in Berlin. Join UNICORNS IN TECH at our next Get-Together to celebrate and support women in tech on International Women’s Day.
We are passionate about diversity and equality. But we cannot ignore the fact that our past thirty-nine meetups have been male-dominated.
Why is diversity so important? All genders are different and while that is both factual and debatable depending on who you ask, differences should be celebrated and utilized for optimization, especially in the workplace. Equality of all kinds encourages unbiased decision making and deepens the opportunity for broader thinking.
Furthermore, diversity inspires innovation and while that sounds obvious, women are still under-represented in the tech world. No really, the statistics are quite shocking.
Our next event is taking place not to highlight the underrepresentation of women, but rather celebrate the achievements and success of women around the world. So get involved, get your place at our WOMEN’S EDITION event now.