Last summer, I shared a message about MassChallenge’s commitment to social justice and our vision of a stronger future through collaborative innovation. To achieve this, we must address racism and bias in our own organization, in our accelerators, and in the entrepreneurial ecosystems in which we work to realize our vision for entrepreneurs, startups, and innovation communities. While this work will take time, and our focus remains on long-term, sustainable change, we are working with urgency. This message shares an update on our actions to date.
1. Cultivate a safe, accessible environment where everyone is valued, respected, and empowered by:
Asking and supporting employees in their efforts to act – through education, donation, volunteerism, or peaceful protest – while taking time to process their feelings and care for their emotional wellbeing.
Forming an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (I.D.E.A.) working group to help to prioritize the needs of our employees and take action. The group is focused on four key areas: training, hiring, benefits and policies, and measurement and communications.
Promoting discussion and learning groups hosted by our I.D.E.A. Group and People Strategy Team around historic days of remembrance and celebration like Juneteenth, MLK Day, and Black History Month.
2. Help our employees learn and engage in actionable conversations about racism and bias.
To address our knowledge gaps, we are working with several external organizations that have become incredible partners:
YW Boston conducted a workshop in July for all US employees focused on understanding social identity, with an emphasis on race, and the goal of building skills and strategies to improve workplace inclusion.
We partnered further with YW Boston and 1/3 of our US staff participated in their InclusionBoston cohort-based program. Our cross-functional cohort participated in a 5-week series of dialogues on systems of oppression, privilege, and inclusion. The group discussed challenges within the organization and identified internal obstacles to a more diverse workforce and a culture that fosters greater equity and inclusion. The cohort learned from each other and developed their skills to support DEI efforts across the organization, and in their day-to-day lives.
We convened 15 MassChallenge leaders and key staff members to participate in a series of Innovention design thinking workshops led by our partner, AARP. This series allowed us to work with design thinkers to broaden our perspectives, question our assumptions, and refine our DEI initiatives.
3. Analyze talent acquisition process and data to understand the changes we need to make to hire and support a more diverse workforce. Steps included:
Analyzing our recruitment and promotion efforts to make sure that we are being inclusive and equitable in our hiring and retention approaches.
Prioritizing the recruitment of diverse talent by finding 24 new sources including Out In Tech, National Black MBA, Diveristy.com, and POCIT.
Tracking the diversity of our candidate pool (ethno-racial and gender identity) at each stage of the interview process to ensure each hiring stage has a qualified and diverse pool of candidates.
Training MC employees to check for bias during the interview process.
Using a gender decoder for job descriptions to ensure that candidates, regardless of their gender identity, see that the position could be a fit for them.
4. Evaluate our entrepreneur and startups recruiting and selection processes; and address how bias in our own process is leaving people out.
We created an asynchronous implicit bias training video that every MassChallenge judge must view before participating in an online judging round.
We partnered with Forefront to provide actionable implicit bias trainings to 175 partner judges for our MassChallenge FinTech and HealthTech programs. We’re planning to provide similar trainings to all MassChallenge mentors in 2021.
We analyzed the demographic data across our US 2020 cohorts and found that:
- 41% of startups had at least one female or non-binary founder
- 53% of startups had at least one BIPOC founder
- 8% of startups had at least one Black founder
- Startups that had BIPOC founders increased their revenue by 47% and investments by 80% during the four-month program
5. Build action plans to ensure our programs and community deliver equitable outcomes for BIPOC founders specifically, and underrepresented founders more broadly.
MassChallenge convened a focus group of diverse community leaders and alumni to advise on opportunities to improve MassChallenge with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion. We will continue to work with this advisory panel.
We have and will continue to build intentional relationships with community partners with expertise and networks relevant to underrepresented founders. These include, for example, Black Ambition, Amplify LatinX, Valence Funding Network, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and Visible Hands.
We have revisited our speaker recruitment practices and committed to achieve representation in speakers and curriculum providers.
Based on alumni feedback, we have developed plans to create and support founder affinity groups, offer a pre-recorded flexible curriculum so it’s available on the founder’s schedule, and offer additional curriculum for first-time founders.
We are actively fundraising to increase the total amounts of non-equity awards available to underrepresented founders in MassChallenge programs.
Health equity has emerged as an overarching challenge area this year across our community. To help better inform our work and others in partnership with these communities, we are hosting a Health Equity event series in collaboration with Mass Health Policy Commission focused on topics such as inequity in healthcare, social determinants of health, and funding entrepreneurs of color in digital health.
A Look Ahead
We are building a long-term plan to provide meaningful trainings and interventions for our team and expert community. Our immediate aim is to help them build their capacity to mitigate bias when evaluating and supporting companies. And we know this will create long-term improvements in our process, and also make impact beyond MassChallenge. Our experts are seasoned business professionals and industry leaders from outside organizations. We believe these efforts will support them in leveraging their learnings and champion more equitable and inclusive innovation in their own companies and communities.
We are co-creating an organization-wide 2021 action plan and roll out strategy with YW Boston based on the learnings from last year’s series of dialogues. The plan focuses on continuing to build a culture that values the diversity of employees and empowers staff to work together closely to establish equitable and inclusive practices at all levels.
We will continue our work to expand the depth and breadth of our angel and venture capital investor relationships to support and connect BIPOC founders to appropriate resources.
While the efforts outlined above represent a deep body of work to address racism and bias, they do not represent the end of the journey. We want to lead the way in building inclusive communities that support founders of all backgrounds and industries, from anywhere in the world.
Thank you to our community and the MassChallenge team for their work in understanding and addressing their own bias, and the work they do each day to mitigate the impact of bias.
Our commitment here is strong and we will continue to work toward a future built through collaborative innovation.