IF WE UNINTENTIONALLY DESIGN FOR INEQUALITY THEN HOW DO WE INTENTIONALLY DESIGN FOR EQUALITY?
The world is facing a plethora of multi-facetted challenges – and to solve them, we need to draw on all talent, and we need a diverse pool of talent.
Let’s create change – together
In Denmark we have a very homogenous startup ecosystem with a heavy overweight of male investors and 95% of all investments going to all male teams. But homogeneity isn’t good business as it can lead to group thinking, lack of innovation and loss of talent. In fact, studies show that diverse teams will outperform homogeneous teams over time.
Recent studies by the World Economic Forum show that diverse teams are 26% more likely to outperform on profitability, have a higher rate of innovation, and that employees are more likely to stay in the company for longer. Those are all vital ingredients in the recipe for a successful startup. So why don’t we make use of this untapped potential of diverse talents?
At Found Diverse, we work actively to create a startup ecosystem that is designed for diversity to make sure that we leverage all potential. The entrepreneurial ecosystem must join forces to build the diverse thriving business community of the future. We want to change the structures so that we – together – work for more innovation and better growth.
The starting point
The journey started in the summer of 2019 where Liva Echwald took the initiative to found Female Founders of The Future, together with Nynne Budtz Christiansen and Niklas Hall, with a clear purpose to support more women in starting and scaling their own business in Denmark, not knowing what the solutions ought to be. In the autumn of 2019 Stine Colding Alstrup joined – first as a volunteer and in spring 2020 as Co-Founder.
Gathering of knowledge
This starting point led to systematic gathering of knowledge on the topic from reports to mapping of the danish ecosystem stakeholders level of knowledge, needs, actions, results and learnings. It soon became clear that Denmark was lacking behind on actions and results compared to countries around us.
Change the conversation
In this process it became clear that the conversation had to change, for solutions to be found. Generalizations and myths about both men and women were carving the path to unconstructive shame and blame conversations trying to “fix women” or “fix men” rather than redesigning the structures and architecture of our startup ecosystem that is creating an unequal playing field.
That is why we asked the gender, inclusion, and diversity expert, Lynn Roseberry to support the development of the 7 guiding principles for talking about gender equality.
Understanding the problem and the potential:
The problem was clear: Access to capital, knowledge, network and role models, was and still is, creating an unequal playing field based on your sex, age, educational background level or etnicity.
The potential was clear: The financial benefit of more women starting and scaling their own business was calculated for other countries. The value of diverse teams in innovation, return on investment, more profitable exits and better business decision making, was documented by multiple sources.
Solutions were to be found: That is why the agenda of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was built up around “access to” and why ecosystem stakeholders were invited to talk about solutions together with stakeholders from The Netherlands and Sweden sharing their results and learnings.
Identifying the roles and responsibility
It soon became clear that in many corners of our startup ecosystem, stakeholders were only at the starting point, when it came to taking action and many did not feel safe with taking the first steps out of concerns of the shame and blame of not having done more before. That is why we very early on identified a focus on roles and responsibilities of the ecosystem stakeholders in creating an ecosystem designed for not only the few but for all.
The working question was raised
While looking into research on the topic entrepreneurship and diversity, structures leading back several generations before us came to light and the complexity of the multiple actions leading us to this situation started to line up. Knowing the past can not be changed a clear question formed about the future: “If we unintentionally design for inequality – then, how do we intentionally design for equality?”
Based on the outcome of the conversions and workshops held on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2019, 10 recommendations were formulated for ecosystem stakeholders to use as a setoff for potential actions and collaborations.
Recommendations that have led to actions in different parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and been at the core of the initiatives that were to follow.
An organisation built for actions
Very early on it became clear that FFOF were not to become a network for female founders but an organisation where multiple actors could take action and build initiatives to support a brighter balance in the ecosystem, with co-lab initiatives.
Learning by doing
During the last 2 years, learnings have been made whilst taking action.
- Founders want to be founders no matter their gender, age or ethnicity. Not female founders as a secondary category next to the founders that are men.
- When working with startups and scaleups it will rarely only involve women, as the team grows. Making scaleup initiatives for women only, creates an excluding culture for all the founders and co-founders that are men.
- Creating closed groups for women only, does not necessarily create access to a funding or diverse network and knowledge.
- There is a need for intentional design for diversity in the startup ecosystem, where insights are being used to create inclusive and safe spaces for all, not only for the few.
Need for a change
In spring 2021, we saw a need for a change in our own organisation based on the learnings of the past 2 years. Therefore the name of the NGO changed from Female Founders of the Future to Found Diverse. As part of this process, the overall purpose changed to fit the learnings and serve a broader understanding of diversity and inclusion.
The changes were approved at the General Assembly held on the 26 of March 2021, which saw an expansion of the board as Stine Colding Alstrup joined. The newly configured board thus consists of Niklas Hall (Chairperson), Nynne Budtz Christiansen (Vice Chairperson), Liva Echwald (Treasurer of the Board) and Stine Colding Alstrup.
Become a co-lab partner.
We have now been testing the co-lab setup in practice on our own skin and if you have an idea for action do reach out to the members of the board.