September 23, 2020

How can we discuss racial diversity and inclusion at work? (interviews with founders)

By Maricel Sanchez

Diversity and inclusion have always been a slightly controversial topic, just brewing under the surface, waiting for a trigger. One of those recent triggers was the killing of George Floyd, which has prompted nationwide protests in the US and globally since it happened in May this year. It has continued to spark conversations about race, justice, policing, and politics in the workplace and at home, not just in the US but globally. Discussions on race, diversity and inclusion have since taken center-stage worldwide, AND rightfully so.

In Europe, the 2019 State of European Tech Report, commissioned by global investment firm Atomico in collaboration with 20 European companies and over 70 European tech stakeholders, paints a stark picture of the state of European tech diversity and inclusion. In 2019, 92% of funding went to all male teams, a similar level to the figures which shocked readers last year. A break down the data by race, age, education, and socioeconomic background, uncovers more problems: 43% of Black/African/Caribbean founders have experienced discrimination – of which 80% link it to their ethnicity. Black founders made up only 1% (0.9%) of the more than 1,200 founder respondents, which is a story of its own. People from a less privileged socioeconomic background are less likely to become entrepreneurs: 81% of founders surveyed said they were living comfortably before they founded their company, against a European norm of 39%. Clearly the state of diversity and inclusion in European tech is not good enough.

There is a lot that needs to be done. A good place to start is to talk about race, diversity, and inclusion, in our everyday lives – at home and at the workplace, and not make it a topic to avoid. Productive conversations, especially at the workplace, will facilitate discussions about “what’s wrong” and produce a more comprehensive “what to do” framework.

We reached out to founders and CEOs from different European startups and asked for their thoughts on discussing race at work. We spoke with Paul Kupfer and Marian Gutscher, co-founders of social enterprise soulbottles (Berlin, 2011); Deborah Choi, founder of consumer platform for plant care, (Berlin, 2018); Nicolas Dessaigne, co-founder of search-as-a-service platform Algolia (Paris, 2012); Alex Stephany, founder of crowdfunding for homeless people platform Beam (London, 2017); Wendy Oke, founder of edtech management and compliance platform TeachKloud (Cork, 2017); Ismail Jeilani, founder of teacher brand-building platform Scoodle (London, 2017); and Naren Shaam, founder of leading global travel platform Omio (Berlin, 2012).