Real estate technology company Redfin and several prominent tech investment firms will encourage startups in their portfolios to recruit an “independent, diverse board member” within two years of funding — marking a new effort to boost diversity amid rising allegations of sexual harassment in the industry.
As a growing number of women in technology go public with stories of discrimination and harassment, the community is forced to face harsh realities about its inclusion problem.
Addressing that problem is the goal of the new campaign, led by Redfin and venture capital firms Madrona Venture Group, DFJ, Pioneer Square Labs, and Greylock Partners, as well as board software and consulting firm Boardspan. Madrona, DFJ, and Greylock are all investors in Redfin, which recently filed to raise up to $100 million in an initial public offering.
The campaign, called #DiverseFromTheStart, is intended to get more women and people of color on the boards of startups.
Women are underrepresented in technology, particularly at the leadership level. It can be an acute problem for startups whose limited resources often make inclusion slide down on the priority list. Although we’re talking about it more, there has been virtually no progress in getting more women into executive roles and board seats of startups since 2015.
The #DiverseFromTheStart campaign’s goal is to encourage founders to make diversity a priority from the beginning, despite the other challenges early-stage startups might be grappling with.
“The problem, as we now see with large-scale companies attempting to become more inclusive toward women and people of color, is that a company’s culture is often formed by its first 30 people,” write Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman and CTO Bridget Frey in a blog post announcing the campaign.
The campaign comes amid a tide of technology leaders resigning because of discrimination and harassment claims.
This week, Ignition Partners Managing Partner Frank Artale resigned due to reports of “misconduct” involving at least one female employee. The news came on the heels of a New York Times report in which dozens of women detailed accounts of mistreatment. That story led 500 Startups General Partner Dave McClure to step down.
One week earlier, The Information ran a story on unwanted advances made by Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck toward women who were seeking startup funding or advice. Caldbeck and his partner resigned and Binary Capital itself will be shut down.
And just a few weeks earlier, an internal investigation at Uber into allegations of sexual harassment led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick and firings of 20 of his former colleagues.
Redfin, which recently filed for its IPO, hopes that getting more women in leadership roles from a startup’s inception will help companies avoid some of these cultural catastrophes later on when the business scales.
“Without a change to the traditions of how startup boards are formed, we would expect VC-only boards to remain predominantly male for the foreseeable future,” Kelman and Frey say in the blog post.
Frey will be discussing #DiverseFromTheStart during a keynote address at Redfin’s Women@Work event Thursday.
Editor’s note: GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg is moderating a session at the Redfin event.