February is Black History Month. A month dedicated to celebrating the achievements of the Black Community / African diaspora.
But did you know that Black history is celebrated in different forms every month somewhere around the world?
It’s celebrated in April in Honduras. In July in Australia. In August in Costa Rica.
So why should the North American investment ecosystem celebrate it only in February?
We encourage key actors of the investment ecosystem; both funds & founders, to celebrate Black History Month throughout the year by showing their commitment to creating an equitable investment environment.
Here are a few ways to celebrate Black History Month beyond February:
1. Break the bias in thoughts and communication
By simply being aware, investors and founders can reduce the bias in their decision-making which has resulted in Black founders receiving only 1% of all venture funds in 2022 and only 2% of partners at venture firms being Black. The reason for the low numbers is not a lack of Black skill or talent. It is the unconscious bias which seeps through work culture and processes. These abysmally low numbers are not going to change with actions taken only one month in a year. Inclusive initiatives should be driven every day, until inclusion is the norm.
VCs can increase the awareness of their biases as they communicate with and review Black founders. A simple process of self-questioning can help them do that. Ask yourself if you would be using the same metrics to evaluate other founders or if you are imposing different standards of progress than other portfolio companies? To attract more Black founders and Black employees, VCs and founders can audit the language on their website, pitch deck, and social media communications to ensure that it is bias free and inviting to applicants from diverse communities.
2. Plan authentic events
The investment ecosystem can plan, execute and attend authentic events that make meaningful connections with Black innovators all year round. Such events are a great opportunity to engage in dialogue with Black talent: innovators, leaders, tech professionals, artists, and thinkers. Investors and founders committed to the spirit of the Black History Month can create and participate in opportunities which regularly amplify Black voices; giving the investment network exposure to Black talent which is otherwise overlooked.
3. Build inclusive work teams and culture
Although companies, including those in the investment sphere, have ramped up their diversity efforts, simply hiring people from diverse backgrounds is often not enough. According to reports, less than 25% Black employees feel included at work. This holds true across sectors. To keep the spirit of Black History Month alive before and after February, VCs and startups should ensure equitable pay and pay attention to career outcomes for historically excluded talent. This can be done by providing adequate training and through corporate “sponsorship”. A psychologically safe work culture at VC firms and startups, where Black employees feel comfortable bringing their authentic self to work, without fear of criticism, rejection, or exclusion, is sure to boost performance and related outcomes.
4. Highlight Black achievements (past & present) throughout the year
The industry looks at VC leaders and successful founders to share information and developments from within and outside the investment space. This gives them the power and the responsibility to share success stories from within the community and shape the Black narrative. Come February, there is a definite uptick in posts and stories highlighting Black achievements. But, thought leaders need to consider how they can champion Black achievements 365 days a year and not just for 28 days. There are some amazing stories of Black entrepreneurs and Black tech workers which can be highlighted as examples for aspiring tech candidates to follow on a regular basis. Putting a spotlight on the many success stories coming out of the Black Community is an effective way to shift the narrative.
To help, we at BKR regularly spotlight great work on our social media platforms through our #BlackInTech and #WeekendRead posts. While we take inspiration from accomplishments of historical figures, we don’t shy away from elevating current examples.
5. Hold themselves and others accountable
Unless key actors in the investment ecosystem hold themselves accountable to building a track record of truly supporting Black talent, all their initiatives during the Black History Month would be construed as nothing but performative activism. Accountability comes with monitoring, measuring, analyzing and correcting the diversity gaps in deal flows and workplace composition. Companies which measure their performance on such metrics on a regular basis and take timely corrective measures are the ones celebrating inclusion well after February.
Perhaps the key takeaway around Black History Month for VCs and startups is to not limit their celebration to one month in a year, and to make it a genuine celebration of Black talent by being an active proponent of inclusion throughout the year.