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Diversity is being invited to the party. A popular statement made by Vernā Meyers and utilized by many DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) champions all over the world. The problem lies in its misuse due to misunderstanding what it actually means. A party is not a party without planning and preparation. Depending on the size, type, and number of attendees you might just need an event planner or your party can go real bad, real fast.  

As an owner of multiple businesses, founder, and CEO with multiple marginalized identities, I have received many invites to parties, mostly due to my identities. I have also received multiple rejections and slaps in the face, once I accepted the invite. Are you still with me, let me explain.

Recently I was asked to apply for pitch competitions and accelerators here in Seattle and in other cities. Believing that I actually had a chance to win, and knowing people who ran these processes, some who reached out to directly ask, I applied. Now before I go any further let me give you some clarity, some of these I was accepted to and some I was rejected, BUT overall I still had common negative experiences that caused me to write this article. Let me give you some examples:

  1. The Pitch Competition: I was invited to pitch at a local competition here in Seattle. During the competition I was approached by a conservative investor who had recently offered money to a law firm to sue my business because we fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion for everyone in all companies. (Yeah, go ahead and reread that, you read it right the first time). His limited perception of diversity believed that my company discriminated against White males in the workplace by telling companies not to hire them… We have never said or even hinted at this during our existence. During the second round of pitching he raised his hand to ask a question, or so I thought. He stated that he had the right to be homophobic, and whatever else he wanted to be in the workplace. No one said anything the room went silent. The facilitator only said and I quote “do you actually have a question?” I politely corrected the conservative bigot and told him he was the problem in the workplace and could believe whatever the hell he wanted in his own house but not in a workplace. He was the liability and the reason companies needed my software. Multiple investors, ok 2-3 came up to me afterwards and stated, that was your test. A test only I encountered and no one else. When I reached out to the founder to give him some tips about improving his investor selection process and ways he could make the event more inclusive, he pretty much ignored me and told me to go speak with his staff. He blew me off!  He also proceeded to mansplain to me that he couldn’t control who he selected as his investors for HIS event…. This was a primary example of inviting me to the party but not being prepared for the challenges that comes from the ignorance of others. This is an example of ill planning.
  2. The Accelerators (yes it’s meant to be plural). In the last 3 months my tech company has been invited to apply for 5 accelerators that wanted to help marginalized founders and CEOs. All of these accelerators are working to improve diversity in tech and for entrepreneurs of Color. Needless to say, we never make it past the application process because everyone is looking for the unicorns but not actually going deep enough in the forest to understand why they are so hard to find. We’ve received minimal feedback, but always the same, that our company just did not meet the qualifications for the accelerator.  The qualifications are usually around lack of traction and financial support. So let me get this right, you want to support underestimated, underfunded, and under supported founders, but we don’t meet your qualifications due to the lack of support? But we are dark enough, woman enough, poor enough, and overall marginalized enough to make you feel good by having us apply to your programs. Here’s a thought, if your program doesn’t meet the qualifications to support our challenges, don’t invite us. Fix your culture first, then holler at us. For us, it’ll be worth the wait. In the meantime, in between time, let me give you some things to think about and remember.
    1. Underrepresented/Underestimated business owners are usually facing the following challenges:
      1. Bias from normative and majority business owners due to their bias about our identities.
      2. Under funding due to historical wealth gaps that makes it harder for us to get where we are.
      3. Your intentionality does not include our realities, it’s not enough to understand/be aware of your privilege, especially if you don’t get how it impacts our oppression.

Due to the ill planning and inconsistency of the planners, your party is non inclusive and riddled with bias. Pay attention to the insights I have provided and build a program targeting marginalized communities around that, not just your intentions. Don’t invite us to the party if the dance floor isn’t open and equitable.

Written by: Dr. CI

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