Investment manager: we all have biases
  • Diversity

Investment manager: we all have biases

In our pursuit of greater diversity and equal opportunity in business, we still have a long way to go. Despite numerous studies showing that mixed teams perform better, there is still too little focus on diversity. This is also true in the world of startups and funders. For example, over the past twelve years, some ninety percent of the growth money spent in the Netherlands has gone to startups with only men at the helm. Fundright wants to improve that situation, NOM wants to help increase equity.

A big mirror. That's what investors should hold up to themselves more often. What about my "bias? Do I look honestly? Do I dare to give someone who is different a chance? ''Nothing is alien to us either,'' says Jens Ruesink, investment manager at NOM. ''I - and many colleagues with me - always try to be aware that those prejudices are in every one of us. You really can't tell from someone whether he or she will become a successful entrepreneur. This is human work and sometimes your personal set of values, judgments, experience and more get in the way. That's how honest we have to be. Sometimes it would be good not to go for the "safe" middle ground that seems less risky. The very people who are and think differently and give a different perspective can be very valuable. Bluntly put: yes-men won't get you anywhere.''

Don't look for copies

Rightly so, in short, that thanks to Fundright the theme of diversity is back on the agenda. Ruesink: ,,Although diversity is not the best chosen word, I think. To me, from an investment perspective, the term complementarity is better. It is about people in a company complementing and challenging each other. Knowledge, ability, skills and background, they have to be different for each person. And yes, if you do that, no doubt you will get more diversity. But I think that's the right order. Diversity for diversity's sake is not what we need and is not an end in itself. You just want to have the right people in the right places and with that form a complementary team.''

As an investor, Ruesink doesn't just approve or reject plans. He tries to make potentially successful companies better, and regularly that involves increasing diversity. Literally. ,,You often see founders of growing startups looking for copies of themselves. I then make it clear to them that that is exactly not what they should do, that they should find someone who complements, challenges and adds something.''

It starts with awareness

Lack of diversity can really be a pitfall for startups, he says. ''Often it starts with an inventor of a new product or innovation. That person becomes an entrepreneur as soon as he or she enters the market, and also a manager as the company continues to grow. These are different roles that require different skills and qualities. And so that works best with different types within the company. And yes, then it can be a very good idea to look at someone of the opposite gender, or someone from a different culture, as well. That way you get more different perspectives on the company and the market, and that can only be a good thing. With a diverse team you keep each other on your toes.

Back to the funding conversation. So what should investors like Jens Ruesink do to encourage more diversity in the portfolio? ,,Everything starts with awareness, and that is really on the agenda right now. We all think we suffer less from prejudice than anyone else, but that's not true. We should ask ourselves the question: do I choose the beaten path, apparent safety? Or do I dare to step out of my own comfort zone?''

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