How Europe’s Young Tech Industry Can Avoid Silicon Valley’s Diversity Failures
Europe’s growing tech industry resembles Silicon Valley in many ways. But in one respect, that’s not a good thing: their dismal diversity numbers.
This year 93% of funds from venture capital firms in Europe went to startups founded only by men.
These numbers haven’t budged for six years, according to data published in Diversity & Inclusion in Tech, a guide created by the nonprofit Diversity VC and London-based VC firm Atomico that aims to help entrepreneurs build more inclusive companies.
While Silicon Valley giants have been publicly pressured to improve their employee diversity over the last few years, Skype co-founder and Atomico CEO Niklas Zennström believes the #MeToo movement has forced the European tech community to reflect on and publicly acknowledge the problems in their own numbers for the first time.
“[Diversity] is a global problem. It’s not a European problem or an American problem,” Zennström said at the Slush startup conference in Helsinki. “I think because the European tech industry is so young, it might be easier for us to make sure we’re getting on the right course early on.”
For Zennström and Diversity VC co-founder Check Warner, it’s venture capitalists who are in the best position to set an example and move the notoriously sticky needle on diversity.
In a conversation with Fortune, Zennström and Warner shared wisdom for leaders seeking to address a lack of diversity in their organizations:
Be proactive in hiring
“It’s too easy to say, ‘Oh, it’s a pipeline problem,’” Zennström pointed out.
Companies hoping to secure funding from Atomico should expect questions about their culture, Zennström said. “And if they don’t care about diversity, that’s going to be a big red flag.”
A diversity policy is also one of the requirements in the firm’s term sheets, he added.
Warner said that while many founders understand diversity is important, they don’t know where to begin.
“I think there’s a massive disconnect within the tech industry,” Warner noted. “A lot of people working in it come from these very privileged places and they don’t necessarily realize that about themselves, so there’s a sort of lack of self-awareness.”
Zennström suggested that employers leave enough time to push back on recruiters who don’t offer a diverse slate of candidates, expand their networks, and abandon stereotypes about the kinds of people who can add value to a tech company.
Letting candidates know that the organization prioritizes diversity is also key, Warner said. Especially in a competitive hiring environment, finding a company with similar values is even more important to many job seekers.
Don’t be afraid to try and fail
Warner emphasizes that improving diversity within an organization is an ongoing journey rather than an actionable item to be completed.
“It’s not easy,” Warner said. “And I think we need to be realistic about that and not shy away from it.”
Many companies are concerned about backlash for not doing enough or launching initiatives that don’t make a significant change, she said. But being transparent about what works and what doesn’t helps the entire industry move forward.
Zennström noted that Atomico’s own numbers on gender diversity were disappointing when the firm began tracking them, but sharing its efforts to correct the problem in the last year enabled it to better advise companies in its portfolio on working toward inclusion.
“You need to think really long term,” he said. “I don’t think that we can fix this tomorrow, but we need to plant the seeds for the next generation.”