As both an entrepreneur and investor, Aileen Lee has lived and worked in the heart of SIlicon Valley for the past two decades. She’s seen how tech industry growth can impact a city — for better or worse.
That’s why her advice for Seattle — which somewhat mimics a mini Silicon Valley, a region going through transformation caused by tech — is worth listening to.
Lee, a former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner who co-founded Bay Area-based Cowboy Ventures in 2012, spoke on stage at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Wednesday. She was joined by fellow panelist Joanne Chen of Foundation Capital and moderator Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital.
Hours before the panel discussion, Lee had just met with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan over lunch at the GeekWire Summit. They talked about how the city should continue to encourage tech companies to grow and thrive — but with all citizens in mind.
“We have to make tech and tech-driven companies more equitable for women and people of color and people who are different — people who didn’t go to Harvard and Stanford, people who didn’t grow up with privilege,” Lee said.
Lee, known for coining the term “unicorn” to describe billion-dollar companies, said inclusion in the tech industry is even more important today given the political discourse.
“We have this window, especially with what’s going on in our country, where these issues are more in our faces than ever,” she explained. “It will be such a crime if we don’t do something about it to actually permanently change the tech ecosystem to make it truly accessible to all kinds of people from different backgrounds and perspectives.”
Asked about how tech leaders specifically can help on this mission, Lee said founders and CEOs should be purposeful with who they hire and the company cultures they build. She advised people to slow down and look outside their own networks.
“Pay attention not just to the numbers of who you’re hiring, but the culture — the quality of conversations, who’s going to lunch with whom,” Lee said. “Paying attention to whether everyone in your company feels like they have an equal chance of being successful, regardless of what level or function they are in, I think is really important.”
Watch the video above for more from their conversation and see all of our GeekWire Summit coverage here.