Tech is “flunking” the diversity test, says activist and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein

Good and interesting interview:

On the latest Recode Decode, Kapor Klein says we need to “take a deep hard look at the BS notion of meritocracy.”

In recent years, several venture capital firms in Silicon Valley have made public strides to become more diverse after decades of being predominantly led by white men. But Freada Kapor Klein, a venture capitalist who has advocated for diversity in tech since the 1980s, isn’t impressed by their progress.

“Writ large, flunk,” she said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “Failing grade.”

Kapor Klein spoke with Recode’s Teddy Schleifer about why well-intentioned initiatives such as All Raise have not yet had an impact. If the tech industry is going to reflect the diversity of the whole country, she explained, hiring more white women isn’t good enough.

“If what we do is count the number of women partners, and if those women partners are white and Asian and went to the same schools and grew up in the same zip codes and now live in the same zip codes as their male partners, that doesn’t get me very far on diversity,” Kapor Klein said. “Every single day I am awestruck, I am inspired by the entrepreneurs that come to pitch us. And they are from every walk of life, from every background possible, every combination of family circumstances, of race, of religion, of age, of gender, of LGBTQ status, disability.”

Along with her husband, Mitch Kapor, Kapor Klein is the co-chair of the Oakland-based Kapor Center, which seeks to diversify tech through a combination of education, community organizing, and impact investing — in other words, only backing startups that “clos[e] gaps of access, of opportunity or outcome for low-income communities and/or communities of color.” Another prominent impact investor, Bill McGlashan, has been implicated in the college admissions scandal, which Kapor Klein cast as “outrageous and not at all surprising.”

“We have to once and for all take a deep hard look at the BS notion of meritocracy,” she said. “This society has moved farther and farther and farther away from being meritocratic for many decades. As one venture capitalist put it recently, that in the last 50 years, there’s been a bull market in inequality. I think we have to look at all of the forces including the ways in which tech has made things worse.”

One highlight:

Big question before we toss to a break, if you were God here and you were designing … I think part of the challenge is that we’re trying to change the venture capital system based on how it currently is, and there’s so many things you can do. If you were God and you were starting over and you were designing how venture capital and how companies were funded to make sure that underrepresented groups were represented, what would it look like?

Well, I think it would have many dimensions. It would have much more concern for, who’s sitting at the table? It would have much more concern for, what are the pathways in for entrepreneurs? There are many practices in VC that are inherently biased. So this notion of a “warm intro,” and we’ve seen many a famous VC make public statements about “if you can’t figure out how to get a warm intro to me …”

Screw you, right?

Yeah, “screw you. We don’t want to talk to you.” Well …

You can see that’s very obvious how that would limit the pool of people?

Completely. Your zip code isn’t close enough to mine. It’s completely biased, and it’s confusing accidents of birth with accomplishment.

You’d get rid of the warm intro.

Get rid of the warm intro. What’s really interesting is we’ve gotten rid of the warm intro. People can send us their pitches directly over the website. We have invested in companies whose pitch decks come in over the website and none of us know anybody who could’ve introduced them to us. And they are businesses that meet our investment criteria.

And our investment criteria are pretty rigorous. And we see, between what comes to us individually and what comes over the website, we see about 3,000 deals a year. It’s the criteria of investing that I would change, and the criteria for those investments, by definition, means you change who the entrepreneurs are and who the investors are.

Source: Tech is “flunking” the diversity test, says activist and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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