The Austin Startup Diversity and Inclusion Pledge

Back in December 2016 I had the idea to develop a startup pledge for diversity and inclusion here in Austin and since have informally been working with some folks to develop the idea. Yesterday, Mary Ann Azevedo wrote an article in Crunchbase that mentioned the work I’ve been doing so I decided to write this short piece more fully explain my thinking. My goal is to get enough thoughtful eyes on the project to launch later this year. Anyone interested in helping, please let me know.

The core idea is that startups will pledge to take a few concrete measures in the way they operate their company that should, over time, increase the number of minorities, women and people who identify as LGBTQ in the startup community.

The centerpiece of the pledge is the Walker Rule, which is inspired by the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which was created by the late Dan Rooney in 2003 and is now supported by his son, Art Rooney II, President of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rooney Rule requires every NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach vacancies. In the years following its implementation, the number of minorities hired to fill head-coach roles doubled.

I’ve named the Walker Rule after Madam C. J. Walker (1867–1919) who was America’s first female self-made millionaire. She was an African-American entrepreneur, hair care industry pioneer, philanthropist, patron of the arts, political activist and one of the 20th century’s most influential businesswomen.

The Walker Rule calls for diversity and inclusion in interviewing and hiring of startup co-founders, CEO, senior team, management, staff, board of directors and advisors. While the specifics haven’t fully come into focus, it calls for committing to interviewing women, minority and LGBTQ candidates for all the roles mentioned above, though there is no quota or preference given in the hiring of candidates.

The terms of the Austin Startup Diversity and Inclusion Pledge under consideration are:

  • The Walker Rule
  • Workforce-diversity transparency and public self-reporting of diversity metrics
  • Unconscious-bias awareness and training throughout the organization
  • Creating a process for anonymous reporting of workplace issues related to discrimination
  • Public commitment to the pledge

In addition to startup companies taking the pledge, I envision a variant of the pledge that venture capital firms, angel investors and other sources of startup capital can take that will encourage diversity and inclusion among their investment professionals.

I envision a website that would allow companies and investors to learn about the pledge, publically take the pledge, and find resources to help support their commitment to the pledge.

For the pledge support resources, I envision:

  • Materials on why diversity and inclusion are important
  • Assistance on how to implement the pledge
  • Links to diversity and equality groups that offer support services
  • Startup Diversity and Inclusion Awards

As part of the rollout of the pledge, I envision reaching out to the local venture capital firms and angel investors to encourage them to include in their term sheets a suggestion that their management teams consider taking the Startup Pledge. This is similar to something we did at Austin Ventures to encourage startups to make a donation to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas.

Currently, I see the following being needed to move this project forward:

  • A board of advisors — A diverse and inclusive group to help refine and roll out these ideas with members coming from startups, investors, diversity groups among other areas
  • Marketing expertise
  • A graphic designer
  • A copy writer
  • A web development guru

Again, if anyone is interested in helping, please let me know! The best way to reach me is by email, but if you don’t have my address, connect with me via:

The Austin Startup Diversity and Inclusion Pledge was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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