The Lack of Diversity in the French and U.S. Startup Markets
The startup space has seemingly been a place where the impossible becomes possible. It is a place seen to drive change, shift paradigms, create innovation, and opportunities to reflect a better tomorrow.
“There is an energy and a soul in a startup….There is something that inspires people to contribute their talent, money, and enthusiasm and fosters a sense of deep connection and mutual purpose.” Ranjay Gulati Harvard Business Review 2019.
That is exactly why I decided to enter the startup space this year. I wanted a space where I could integrate my spiritual awareness. Particularly, my acknowledgement that we have a soul with a purpose, and there is a bigger meaning for us all being here. This industry makes impactful, often life-changing outcomes that are more than their business model. (Ranjay Gulati 2019) They have purpose and meaning. They have an energy and a consciousness that I think ultimately drives us all to make better decisions; to help us ascend humanity to higher dimensions of understanding, clarity, and progress. Or so I thought…
I was doing a bit of research in this space, particularly in France. I am an American, working remotely for a U.S. startup, who has recently moved to Paris. I noticed something very counterintuitive. Most, if not all, of the teams and management committees in this market were white; and mostly male. Yet, their companies’ headquarters were all in Paris, a highly diverse city.
I want to reflect on French culture; because I think it is important to understand how we get here. French culture, unlike the U.S., doesn’t look at race and identity politics in the same way. “French culture is very different from the U.S. one — the goal is universalism and not dividing people into categories.” Laura Medji points out in Helene Fouquet and Ania Nussbaum’s WWII Era Obstacle is Curbing French Startup Diversity article. Given this thought process, and a WWII law that makes it illegal to keep metrics on race and ethnicity, it may give relevance to the extreme lack of diversity in the startup space. (Helene Fouquet and Ania Nussbaum 2020) In addition, it would make it impossible to ensure diversity and inclusion was even a consideration when building and creating startup organisations.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a Utopian society. Race is and has been, for some time, a societal construct. In France, one cannot think race doesn’t exist given the historical, economic, political, and sociological culture and societal structure of France over, at least, the last few centuries. Therefore, pretending race doesn’t exist, yet hiring the same homogenous perspective, leads me to believe that universalism is, in fact, masked supremacism. And, it is even more dangerous because this industry does not have to take any responsibility for their active role in discrimination, when they have no reason to track or even acknowledge it.
Now, before I get completely shunned, somehow, by any French startup I would have liked to explore opportunities in the future with, I want to turn the attention back to the market that I currently work in, the U.S. The US is in stark contrast to the “race doesn’t exist, we all are one” narrative that the French purport. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the U.S. culture plays heavily into race politics. Race is widely and often discussed. People are either Black / African American, Latinx American, Italian American, and the list goes on. One would assume there would be more opportunity for innovation and creation to come from others’ perspectives besides those that are heavily white and male. The US has a history of diversity, and brands itself as a “salad bowl”. Elizabeth Dean from her Overview of Cultural Identity in the US defines this as, “…the blending of ethnic characteristics much like salad, they do not change even when they are mixed together.” (Elizabeth Dean 1997) Yet, despite the U.S. culture’s stellar brand identity, black and latinx founders are finding it hard to find access to seed capital. (Galen Gruman 2020) And don’t forget about the ladies either because only 3% of seed capital went to female-only founded startups in 2019. (Kate Whiting 2020) Therefore, even though there are budding companies, trying to get off the ground that may have different products and services to impact the broader collective, they lack the means and support to create them.
Investors’ preference to financially support white male founders is no better than hiring all, or mostly all, white male teams and leadership committees. Both create the same conclusion: homogenous ideas turned into products and services that could lead to creating narrow impact. What is even worse is that it doesn’t look like the U.S., branded as the country of immigrants, is likely to change anytime soon. Most U.S. startup companies’ plans for diversity: null. Only a quarter of startups are actually trying to increase diversity within their leadership teams. (Kate Whiting 2020).
If there is a soul in startups, I guess the better question is: is it truly awakened? My presumption: no.
Spiritual Awakening the Startup Soul:
The soul in startups, with all its good intention, is failing to think past its own ego, or individual importance; and that looks very white and male. I think, in order for the startup space to live more authentically, and work to create outcomes for the true betterment of all society, they should undergo a spiritual awakening.
On an individual level, a spiritual awakening is a process where one starts to understand their life. This tends to be a painful, yet confronting process; but, ultimately leads one to understanding themselves fully, focusing on living a good life, and contributing to the greater good. (Tamara Lechner 2019) This awakening process usually starts by one realising, or noticing, negative patterns. (Tamara Lechner 2019) Eventually, this spiritual experience tends to lead to: surrendering attachments to certain beliefs, feeling a sense of connection with the collective, and having increased compassion for themselves and those around them. (Tamara Lechner 2019)
Therefore French and US startups, and the global industry as a whole, need to look at themselves authentically, realistically, and honestly. They should ask themselves: is their intention to create change for the greater good, or is their intention to create change for a homogeneous sect of the greater good, and hope impact trickles down to everyone else? Answer this honestly. Leave the dream state. Take responsibility for the lack of diversity in the industry. Really reflect on how the lack of diversity may lead to the creation of narrow outcomes. Critically assess how the industry is more alike, than maybe it wants to admit, to the society it resides in. Address this fact, learn from it, to improve it. It may be a painful process. Often coming to terms with the reality that we are not as we thought we were, is. But through awareness and awakening, comes real change. It creates a real shift in the paradigm. It also leads to universal impact. And it is only then the industry can truly live up to making better decisions, in order to ascend humanity to higher dimensions of understanding, clarity, and progress.