Investment manager: we all have biases

Fundright event: diversity must stay on agenda

We all agree, it seems. Diversity is good, diversity must. Good for companies, good for investors, good for everyone. And yet it doesn't come naturally, yet we need to keep paying constant attention to it. This certainly also applies to investors, as the Fundright event organized by NOM, together with Founded in Friesland and Founded in Groningen, demonstrated.

Numbers don't lie. They shock, though. Of all investments in Dutch startups, 1.6 percent go to female founders. The portfolio of the NOM doesn't show too bright a picture either. There the percentage hovers around ten. That's striking, especially when you realize that female entrepreneurs have proven better results. By far the most investment money goes to white, male founders. And that's not just because they are simply in the majority, especially in the scene of technology-driven startups.

So the question is: how can this be? The Fundright event attempted to formulate answers to that, as well as the logical follow-up question: what do we do about it? In a digital event - forced by circumstances - experts and experts by experience spoke and entrepreneurs, stakeholders and investment managers discussed the topic of diversity.

To measure is to know

To address a problem, it must first be defined. Let's see the numbers then. It is a hobbyhorse of Agnes Koops, member of the PwC Executive Board. Also an advocate of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace. The naked numbers are a conversation tool, they are a mirror,'' she told the event.

,,We saw within PwC that white men scored higher on performance reviews and thus made careers faster. Those figures were the turnover to initiate a change. Trainings, courses, meetings, all to draw attention to the problem and eventually make diversity and inclusiveness part of our culture. This is not just about women, but also about people with a different culture, with a disability, about everyone really.''

This is not just an example; it speaks to an important piece of advice. ''If you want to address this problem, you have to give it sustained attention and take it seriously. Look at the numbers and set targets where those numbers need to go. That's the way to force change.''

Awareness is growing

Speaking of the numbers, sixty percent of the funds that affiliate with Fundright are made up of purely male boards. ''That's better than average, but not yet worth a party,'' Constantijn van Oranje stated. He is special envoy of startup accelerator TechLeap, which founded Fundright.
About the importance of more diversity, he is crystal clear. ''Diverse teams perform better because they have a broader view of markets and services.'' And there is another very important argument for driving diversity. ''In the tech sector, we need top talent from outside the Netherlands. Without an inclusive culture, that talent is less willing to come.''

After a year of Fundright, Constantijn can cautiously draw a few conclusions. ,,People understand better that diversity matters. I see the Black Lives Matter movement as a confirmation of that. It is now up to us to continue propagating that importance, and also to act accordingly. We must remain in constant dialogue with the portfolio holders within the movement.''

Shout it from the rooftops

Diversity was not talked about soon enough. To get a little more in depth, several roundtable discussions existed during the online Fundright event. For entrepreneurs, for fund managers, for stakeholders. To start with the latter: there, the realization that diversity matters seems to have sunk in nicely.

Not that that finishes the job, of course. No, we need more data to beat investors to the punch. And then approach the issue positively. No punishment for those who do not participate, but a reward for those who do promote diversity. That reward, by the way, already comes in the form of better performing companies.

And at the same time, we need to work on the supply side. In other words, how do we make sure that more women and people from different backgrounds, or people with disabilities are in the position of needing investment? That is something these stakeholders might be able to contribute to. Through education, by shouting from the rooftops how important it is, by giving examples and role models a stage.

Beware of excuustruus feeling

Indeed, the key question is: where are those entrepreneurial types who do not fit the description "male and white"? At the roundtable full of entrepreneurs, people wondered if it might be that entrepreneurial women and representatives of minority groups are not stepping up to funding enough. And if so, what do we do about it?

Perhaps it is time to put more effort into explaining how investments work, to lower the threshold. And another thing: Is there a list of potentially interesting investors in the North? There must be an easier way to find them. Conversely, atypical entrepreneurs should also make themselves more visible.

Above all, what entrepreneurs should not be afraid of is feeling like an excuse loop if they are appointed. You have to start somewhere to make the landscape more diverse. And if you couldn't do anything, you really wouldn't have been asked. Diversity is important, as the entrepreneurs know. This must penetrate deep into the capillaries of every company, especially in the HR department.

Investors open arms

For investors, the group at which the Fundright campaign is essentially aimed, it is essential that other types of entrepreneurs themselves step forward. Because even investors see the added value of diversity, they also see, on the other hand, that the vast majority of the supply of entrepreneurs is male and white.

That makes one think. How is it that half the lecture hall in Economics is full of women, while later only ten percent apply for venture capital? Are they more insecure, more risk-averse? Or are we not looking hard enough? That should be the subject of extensive research. And in the meantime, it is up to the investors themselves to open their arms and communicate widely that they are very happy to help entrepreneurs of all kinds move forward. Gladly, in fact.

To be continued

There are a lot of sides to this issue. So many, in fact, that a two-hour event cannot be more than a start to addressing the issue. For now, the number of questions exceeds the mountain of answers. That is exactly what the Fundright event is for: to take stock, discuss and share. And now to work to make the entrepreneurial Northern Netherlands more diverse.

Organizer NOM serves as an example in this regard. It already set itself the goal of appointing at least thirty-five percent women within its own ranks, and is now taking a sharp look at its holdings to formulate the same kind of goals beyond just the male-female ratio. Everyone in the entrepreneurial landscape must be aware of the importance, must continue to look at it and find solutions. That is good for all of us.

NOM director Dina Boonstra summed up the afternoon nicely. ''We have a job to keep calling attention to diversity. This is certainly not the last time you will hear from us about it.'' To be continued, then.