Against the heavy backdrop of racial injustice globally, I recently attended a Fearless Futures workshop on shifting from Unconscious Bias to Active Allyship. Two things hit home for me – the first was the very personal experience shared by one of the participants, a self-described creative entrepreneur, who happened to be both black and disabled. He shared that although he felt unheard and invisible, especially in the workplace, he was also very aware of his own privilege: he was a man and well-educated, so he had social capital. In that excruciatingly human moment of vulnerability, I was not only forced to confront a myriad of my own privileges but to deeply assess the impact of my role as a leader in acting in solidarity for systemic change.
The second moment was a reminder that such systems are designed</i>; we didn’t get here by accident, but rather via social constructs of our own making. The reason that complex issues such as inequality endure is that they are systemic in nature. The ‘system’ has literally been designed that way, to propagate and perpetuate an unequal world. What’s clear is that the long game is collectively working on the most significant point of leverage – seeing paradigms for what they are – and shifting them for the betterment of our society. There hasn’t been a more urgent moment than now.
Focusing on needle-moving impact in Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (let’s run with ‘JEDI’ for now) requires identifying points of leverage within the system, committing to a sustained effort over time, and to the deep humility needed to identify where we are each complicit in the ongoing systemic issues at play. When it comes to true diversity (in all its forms), the gap to be bridged by the venture community is vast.
With this in mind, we at Anthemis are deeply committed to real action, which works to both level the playing field and challenge the prevailing paradigm. So, joining the first cohort to be assessed under Diversity VCs Inclusive Investing Standard, which sets a benchmark for best practice on D&I in the industry, was an obvious imperative. The key to this is ‘normalising’ DEI as a structural factor in assessing overall business value. To shift the paradigm, we need to change how we conceive of prevailing value, which requires a deep appreciation for the system at play. A preeminent systems thinker, Donella Meadows, shares insights on how to examine how a system functions and which levers for change are most important. She also positions that “the future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned”.
Avoiding the ‘spray and pray’
At a time where there has been heavy criticism for virtuous signalling, continuity of action in support of a specific vision for the future is imperative. For example, we’ve mapped a track for building pathways to the (investment) pipeline which defies the common ‘lack of pipeline’ rhetoric and starts with small interventions targeted at the structure and rules of the system. By designing bespoke office hours events for underrepresented groups, we increase the potential for these entrepreneurs to access capital and in doing so, build networks outside of our mainstream ‘kin’ (and avoid perpetuating opportunity to those already in similarly privileged positions). This sparks a virtuous circle (one of our founding principles), with more diverse groups accessing funding, who go on to grow more diverse teams, and ultimately build more diverse and inclusive products.
Working with and through community
Creating the space for other voices – who are central to the discussion – and lifting these voices up is essential to generating higher transformative impact. For example, working in partnership with BLCK VC and fellow VC firm Lerrer Hippeau on the NYC Fellowship Program, we are together working to break the cycle, or prevailing paradigm, through attracting further diversity into VCs to increase the role of diverse talent in decision making within VC firms. Again, this representation sparks greater inclusion and belonging within organisations (a force multiplier for innovation), and ultimately more diverse founders being funded. Here, lived experiences matter more than learned perspectives.
Meeting people where they are
Systems change is not possible without shifting mindsets – our worldviews are linked directly to how we make sense of an existing paradigm. Instead of taking a compliance-led approach to DEI, we advocate for adopting a blended approach to learning, which meets people where they are and works to challenge a prevailing view or hard-wired belief. This involves investing in a combination of adult-learning based experiential ‘moments’ (we partner with LifeLabs Learning)</a>; an intelligent Slack integration which adapts microlearning content to the user and plugs intuitively into workflow (we like Crescendo), as well as open programs which target the very root of structural inequality and force moments (like my own) self-reflection and personal growth.
On authentically leaning in
Change ultimately starts from within our organisations. We have been deliberate in our distributed approach, in that our DEI efforts are not a centralised or top-down mandate, but rather co-designed and co-led. Initiatives are driven by multiple DEI advocates across the company, forming a ‘coalition of the willing,’ who are authentically leaning in to represent across spaces that they are passionate about and to which they bring multi perspectives on change. These initiatives are aligned under one program of work, with a coherent imperative — to build a more equitable and inclusive venture ecosystem and financial services system at large.
For some immediate paradigm-shifting insights, I was struck by the work from Where Change Started, (thanks, @laurenjcapelin) a starter kit around becoming an effective ally which elaborates further on four stages to becoming anti-racist:
- Awareness of the truth that a racial injustice exists
- Education and being intentional about seeking information about racial injustice from a range of sources, perspectives, and experiences
- Self-interrogation of ways in which your behaviour might perpetuate (or at least be complicit in condoning) racial injustice
- Community action to authentically show up in support of creating change
If any of these thoughts struck a chord with you, please connect. I’d love to hear what you’re working on!