If you’re an entrepreneur in the Twin Cities, there’s no shortage of events, panels, showcases, and workshops that you can attend. Similarly, both St. Paul and Minneapolis municipalities and organizations are building initiatives, steering committees, and coalitions dedicated to strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are rich in talent and experts who are generous in sharing best practices, their success stories, and advice for building a business.
The problem is that if you’re queer, a woman, and or person of color, it’s few and far between that the panelists, experts, or committee members featured look like you. Sure, there are the ever present “women in tech” panels or “diversity in the workforce” events. But the status quo trends towards homogeny on most dominant topics and themes. These events and committees often spotlight the same people, even when they’re not necessarily the expert.
Why can’t it be different? What if the panelists, keynote speakers, and steering committees more accurately represented the rich diversity of our community?
Some event producers or moderators might tell you, “it’s a pipeline problem.” At Lunar Startups, we think it’s a social capital problem. And we have a call to action.
STEP UP | STEP ASIDE | STEP BACK
If you sit on multiple boards and steering committees, are a regular feature on panels, or often get tapped to speak, here are three easy steps that you can take to help share access and visibility with high potential and achieving people that might not fit the “hacker in a hoodie” stereotype.
Simply asking the organizer to reflect on the diversity of the panel is an important step. Bringing awareness to spaces that might not know they have a blind spot or don’t represent the broader community is a perfect starting point.
Use your voice to make the table bigger. This is an example of stewardship - creating space for someone by sharing the spotlight.
Say no and make an introduction. Level up your stewardship skills by signaling to the organizers and your community that there are emerging faces that deserve recognition and spotlight.
Realizing that your network looks a lot like you? No worries, you just have to ask and people will help you. Ask Twitter, ask your colleagues, ask journalists, ask Lunar Startups! Expand your network and challenge your own perceptions about who “should” speak on a topic or theme.
Looking for an example of this? We have a story for you.
This month, Twin Cities Blacks in Tech hosted an amazing event on #Techquity, highlighting the importance of representation in entrepreneurship and venture capital. [Don’t miss their national October conference in MSP]. The event included a panel of local investors asked to share tips and advice with entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to access capital.
Originally, the organizers asked Scott Burns to sit on the panel.
For those of you that might not know, Scott is not only a successful, serial entrepreneur, he is a local investor and a great example of a self-aware steward and advocate for entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities. Scott has also been the featured speaker and premiere panelist innumerable times in the local ecosystem.
Scott inquired with the organizers about the composition of the panel. He noticed there was not a woman of color represented.
Scott offered to facilitate an introduction to a local black, woman investor that the organizers did not yet know.
He gave up his seat to make space for that investor to share her extensive knowledge and insights with the community. This action ultimately created space for not one, but two women of color getting added to the panel. AND he still attended the event.
If even one ally on every panel, steering committee, board of directors, or advisory team practiced these three steps, we could quickly see a change in the composition and impact of these events.
We don’t think we’re alone in saying that the #techquity investor panel was one of the best we’ve listened to in the Twin Cities, and that’s in large part due to the diversity of expertise present. Each of the investors brought a different perspective, focus, and preferred investment stage to the discussion.
Diversity in innovation and entrepreneurship is not intractable. As Mayor Carter said at the event, “diversity is not a problem, it is an asset.” It requires intention, small but regular amounts of effort, and a willingness to share the spotlight.