New Math Research Group Reflects a Schism in the Field

Critics accuse the organization of opposing efforts to stamp out inequity

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #inequality, #math, #mathematics

Lost Women of Science Podcast, Bonus Episode: The Resignation

We investigate the curious, charged circumstances surrounding the resignation of the director of pediatrics at Columbia University’s Babies Hospital and one pathologist at the center of it…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences

Once Shunned in Antarctica, Female Scientists Are Now Doing Crucial Polar Research

Women are investigating critical climate crisis problems such as the stability of giant ice sheets

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #observatory, #social-sciences

Lost Women of Science, Episode 4: Breakfast in the Snow

In our final episode, we explore Dorothy Andersen’s legacy—what she left behind and how her work has lived on since her death. Describing her mentor’s influence on her life and…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #inequality, #social-sciences

The Suburbs Are Poorer and More Diverse Than We Realize

Understanding diversity in the suburbs is key to winning elections.

#critical-race-theory, #diversity, #education, #internal-sub-only-nl, #lewis-mccoy-r-lheureux, #loudoun-county-va, #minorities, #race-and-ethnicity, #suburbs, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government, #virginia, #youngkin-glenn-a

This Engineer, Actor and Science Communicator Is Giving Science Its Rap

Maynard Okereke is using his distinctive voice to fight the lack of minority representation in STEM

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences

Lost Women of Science, Episode 2: The Matilda Effect

A passionate outdoorswoman, a “rugged individualist” and a bit of an enigma—the few traces Dorothy Andersen left behind give us glimpses into who she was. In this episode, we track…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences

Listen to This New Podcast: “Lost Women of Science”

A new podcast is on a mission to retrieve unsung women scientists from oblivion. 

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #history, #social-sciences

Listen to This New Podcast: The Lost Women of Science

A new podcast is on a mission to retrieve unsung female scientists from oblivion.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #history, #social-sciences

The Lost Women of Science, Episode 1: The Question Mark

When physician and pathologist Dorothy Andersen confronted a slew of confounding infant deaths, she suspected the accepted diagnosis wasn’t right. Her medical sleuthing led to the world’s…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences

Disabled Astronauts Blaze New Space Trails

Efforts are underway to make space missions more accessible

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences, #space-exploration, #spacephysics

Confronting the Political Determinants of Gun Violence

Addressing health inequities in the U.S. requires social and historical context

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #health, #policy, #social-sciences, #sociology

Talking About Race Is Tricky. Here’s One Reason Why.

‘Semantic narrowing’ isn’t exactly a household term, but maybe it should be.

#cultural-appropriation, #discrimination, #diversity, #english-language, #internal-sub-only, #race-and-ethnicity, #semantics

In One Life-Changing Moment, This Former Seaman Jumped from Ships to Computer Chips

Cybersecurity expert Laeon Israel talks disparities in STEM, “closing the gap” and a life awash in a sea of data

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #social-sciences

The Longer Short List Effect

How to increase the consideration of female candidates for male-gendered roles

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#diversity, #inequality, #social-sciences

Beware the hidden bias behind TikTok resumes

Social media has served as a launchpad to success almost as long as it has been around. The stories of going viral from a self-produced YouTube video and then securing a record deal established the mythology of social media platforms. Ever since, social media has consistently gravitated away from text-based formats and toward visual mediums like video sharing.

For most people, a video on social media won’t be a ticket to stardom, but in recent months, there have been a growing number of stories of people getting hired based on videos posted to TikTok. Even LinkedIn has embraced video assets on user profiles with the recent addition of the “Cover Story” feature, which allows workers to supplement their profiles with a video about themselves.

As technology continues to evolve, is there room for a world where your primary resume is a video on TikTok? And if so, what kinds of unintended consequences and implications might this have on the workforce?

Why is TikTok trending for jobs?

In recent months, U.S. job openings have risen to an all-time high of 10.1 million. For the first time since the pandemic began, available jobs have exceeded available workers. Employers are struggling to attract qualified candidates to fill positions, and in that light, it makes sense that many recruiters are turning to social platforms like TikTok and video resumes to find talent.

But the scarcity of workers does not negate the importance of finding the right employee for a role. Especially important for recruiters is finding candidates with the skills that align with their business’ goals and strategy. For example, as more organizations embrace a data-driven approach to operating their business, they need more people with skills in analytics and machine learning to help them make sense of the data they collect.

Recruiters have proven to be open to innovation where it helps them find these new candidates. Recruiting is no longer the manual process it used to be, with HR teams sorting through stacks of paper resumes and formal cover letters to find the right candidate. They embraced the power of online connections as LinkedIn rose to prominence and even figured out how to use third-party job sites like GlassDoor to help them draw in promising candidates. On the back end, many recruiters use advanced cloud software to sort through incoming resumes to find the candidates that best match their job descriptions. But all of these methods still rely on the traditional text-based resume or profile as the core of any application.

Videos on social media provide the ability for candidates to demonstrate soft skills that may not be immediately apparent in written documents, such as verbal communication and presentation skills. They are also a way for recruiters to learn more about the personality of the candidate to determine how they’d fit into the culture of the company. While this may be appealing for many, are we ready for the consequences?

We’re not ready for the close-up

While innovation in recruiting is a big part of the future of work, the hype around TikTok and video resumes may actually take us backward. Despite offering a new way for candidates to market themselves for opportunities, it also carries potential pitfalls that candidates, recruiters and business leaders need to be aware of.

The very element that gives video resumes their potential also presents the biggest problems. Video inescapably highlights the person behind the skills and achievements. As recruiters form their first opinions about a candidate, they will be confronted with information they do not usually see until much later in the process, including whether they belong to protected classes because of their race, disability or gender.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) concerns have had a major surge in attention over the last couple of years amid heightened awareness and scrutiny around how employers are — or are not — prioritizing diversity in the workplace.

But evaluating candidates through video could erase any progress made by introducing more opportunities for unconscious, or even conscious, bias. This could create a dangerous situation for businesses if they do not act carefully because it could open them up to consequences such as damage to their reputation or even something as severe as discrimination lawsuits.

A company with a poor track record for diversity may have the fact that they reviewed videos from candidates used against them in court. Recruiters reviewing the videos may not even be aware of how the race or gender of candidates are impacting their decisions. For that reason, many of the businesses I have seen implement an option for video in their recruiting flow do not allow their recruiters to watch the video until late in the recruiting process.

But even if businesses address the most pressing issues of DE&I by managing bias against those protected classes, by accepting videos there are still issues of diversity in less protected classes such as neurodiversity and socioeconomic status. A candidate with exemplary skills and a strong track record may not present themselves well through a video, coming across as awkward to the recruiter watching the video. Even if that impression is irrelevant to the job, it could still influence the recruiter’s stance on hiring.

Furthermore, candidates from affluent backgrounds may have access to better equipment and software to record and edit a compelling video resume. Other candidates may not, resulting in videos that may not look as polished or professional in the eyes of the recruiter. This creates yet another barrier to the opportunities they can access.

As we sit at an important crossroads in how we handle DE&I in the workplace, it is important for employers and recruiters to find ways to reduce bias in the processes they use to find and hire employees. While innovation is key to moving our industry forward, we have to ensure top priorities are not being compromised.

Not left on the cutting room floor

Despite all of these concerns, social media platforms — especially those based on video — have created new opportunities for users to expand their personal brands and connect with potential job opportunities. There is potential to use these new systems to benefit both job seekers and employers.

The first step is to ensure that there is always a place for a traditional text-based resume or profile in the recruiting process. Even if recruiters can get all the information they need about a candidate’s capabilities from video, some people will just naturally feel more comfortable staying off camera. Hiring processes need to be about letting people put their best foot forward, whether that is in writing or on video. And that includes accepting that the best foot to put forward may not be your own.

Instead, candidates and businesses should consider using videos as a place for past co-workers or managers to endorse the candidate. An outside endorsement can do a lot more good for an application than simply stating your own strengths because it shows that someone else believes in your capabilities, too.

Video resumes are hot right now because they are easier to make and share than ever and because businesses are in desperate need of strong talent. But before we get caught up in the novelty of this new way of sharing our credentials, we need to make sure that we are setting ourselves up for success.

The goal of any new recruiting technology should be to make it easier for candidates to find opportunities where they can shine without creating new barriers. There are some serious kinks to work out before video resumes can achieve that, and it is important for employers to consider the repercussions before they damage the success of their DE&I efforts.

#column, #diversity, #glassdoor, #human-resource-management, #labor, #linkedin, #opinion, #recruitment, #resume, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #startups, #tc, #tiktok

Dear Sophie: Should I apply for citizenship if I have a conviction?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

At Burning Man a few years ago, I was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for smoking marijuana in public (in my car) and driving under the influence.

I currently have a green card and want to apply for U.S. citizenship next year.

Can I? If so, how should I handle my criminal record?

— Remorseful About the Reefer

Dear Remorseful,

As you’ve discovered, you have to be extra careful when you’re an immigrant: Obviously, you should never break the law, but as an immigrant, if you do, it can have severe and lasting consequences.

You even need to be careful to avoid doing things that an immigration officer might consider to be outside the bounds of good moral character, even if they are not crimes. All immigrants should remember that even though limited use of marijuana for recreational and medical uses is legal in several states, it’s illegal under federal law.

My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, recently podcasted on how various crimes can impact your green card status and affect your ability to become a U.S. citizen. Take a listen and (always in this situation) consult an experienced immigration attorney. Tell your attorney about your DUI and marijuana charges, any subsequent marijuana use, any other arrests or citations, and even things you might consider minor such as speeding, parking or jaywalking tickets. An immigration attorney can determine whether you should proceed with applying for U.S. citizenship and if so, when and how to do so.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

What is good moral character?

As you know, you must be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years — or three years if you have a green card through marriage — to be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Additionally, you must demonstrate “good moral character” during the five- or three-year statutory period.

#column, #diversity, #ec-column, #green-card, #immigration-law, #labor, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #tc, #united-states, #verified-experts

What minority founders must consider before entering the venture-backed startup ecosystem

Funding for Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. hit nearly $1.8 billion in the first half of 2021 — a fourfold increase from the previous year. But most venture-backed startups are “still overwhelmingly white, male, Ivy-League-educated and based in Silicon Valley,” according to a study conducted by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC.

With venture investors committing to funding Black and minority founders, alongside the growing availability of government-backed proposals, such as New Jersey allocating $10 million to a seed fund for Black and Latinx startups, can we expect to see fundamental change? Or will we have to repeat the same conversations about representation failings within VC funds?

Crunchbase examined the access to capital in the venture-backed startup ecosystem and proved that many industry leaders still worry that nothing will drastically shift. As a Black fintech founder, I believe that venture investors are making safe bets and investing in late-stage founders instead of early or even pre-seed stages.

But what about those minority founders who don’t have family, friends or connections to lean on for the first $250,000? Venture funding does remain elusive, but here are some tricks for startup founders to hack the system.

Realize you are up against an outdated system

Getting your foot in the door with new venture capitalist partners is challenging, and it is often easy for minority founders to be naive at first. I thought that reading TechCrunch and analyzing other VC deals I saw in the news would help me land multiple responses and speak the language of those who managed to score million-dollar deals for their startups. However, I didn’t receive a single response while other founders received VC investment for basic ideas.

This is something I had to learn the hard way: What you hear in the media or read on a company blog post often simplifies the process, and sometimes fails to cover the trajectory that minority founders, in particular, must follow to secure funding.

I experienced hundreds of rejections before raising $2 million to start a mobile payment platform, Bleu, using beacon technology to drive simple and secure payments. It is a huge mountain to climb and a full-time job to continuously pitch your vision and yourself to reach the first meeting with a VC fund — and that’s still miles away from a funding discussion.

These discussions then bring further biases to the surface. If you sat in the conference rooms or on those Zoom calls and heard the types of deals proposed to minority founders, you’d see how offensive they can be. Often, these founders are offered all the money they have requested — but don’t be fooled. It is usually not given all at once due to what I consider to be a lack of trust. Essentially, interval funding equates to being babysat.

Therefore, as a minority founder, you have to realize that it will be a long ride, and you will face rejections because you are at a disadvantage before even opening your mouth to pitch your idea. It is all possible, but patience is key.

Think of the worst-case scenario

Once I figured out how complicated the funding process was, my coping mechanism was to figure out how to capitalize on the business ideas I already had in place in case I never received any VC funding.

Think: How could you make money without an institutional investor, friends, family or internal networks? You’ll be surprised by your entrepreneurial thirst for success when you’ve experienced 100 rejections. This is why minority businesses caught in these testing situations can quickly gain the upper hand, whether through ancillary and side businesses or crowdfunding over GoFundMe and Kickstarter.

Although generally considered non-essential, ancillary companies do provide a regular flow of income and services to assist your core business idea. Most importantly, a recurring revenue stream outside your core business demonstrates to investors that you can create valuable products and acquire loyal customers.

Make sure to find a niche market and carry out surveys with potential clients to find out what specific needs they have. Then, build a product with their feedback in mind and launch it to beta clients. When you publicly release the product, find resellers to keep internal headcount low and generate recurring revenue.

Don’t take ancillaries lightly, though; they are not just a side business. There can be payment issues if you get hooked on them for revenue, distractions from clients or partners wanting custom requests, and supply chain problems.

In my case, I built a point-of-sale (POS) software platform to sell to merchants, which gave me a different revenue stream that could integrate with Bleu’s payment technology. These ancillary businesses can help fund your core business until you manage to plan how to launch fully or source further funding.

In 2019, The New York Times published an article headlined “More Start-Ups Have an Unfamiliar Message for Venture Capitalists: Get Lost.” It highlights how more and more entrepreneurs shunned by the VC funding route are turning to alternatives and forming counter-movements. There are always alternatives to look at if the fundraising process is proving to be too arduous.

Make serious headway with accelerators

Accelerators allow ventures to define their products or services, quickly build networks and, most importantly, sit at tables they wouldn’t be able to on their own. Applying to accelerators as a minority founder was the real turning point for me because I met a crucial investor who allowed us to build credibility and open up to new networks, investors and clients.

I would suggest looking out for accelerators explicitly searching for minority founders by using platforms such as F6S. They match you with accelerators and early growth programs committed to innovation in various global industries, like financial technology. That’s how I found the VC FinTech Accelerator in 2016, where one-third of founders were from minority backgrounds.

Then, Bleu earned a spot in the 2020 class of the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator dedicated to supporting innovative startups in fintech and health tech industries. These types of accelerators offer startups workshops, technical and business mentorship, and access to a network of partners, customers and stakeholders.

You can impress accelerators by creating a pitch deck and a company video less than two minutes long that shows your founder and the product, and engaging with the fintech community to spread the news.

The other alternative to accelerators is government funds, but they have had little success investing in startups for myriad reasons. It tends to be a more hands-off approach as government funds are not under significant pressure from limited partners (LPs, either institutional or individual investors) to perform.

What you need as a minority founder is an investor who is an active partner but, with government-backed funds, there is less demand to return the capital. We have to ask ourselves whether governments are really searching for the best minority-owned startups to help them get sufficient returns.

Tap into foreign markets

There are many unconscious social stigmas, stereotypes and unseen biases that exist in the U.S. And you’ll find those cultural dynamics are radically different in other countries that don’t have the same history of discrimination, especially when looking at a team or assessing founders.

I also noticed that, as well as reduced bias, investors out of Southeast Asia, Nordic countries and Australia seemed far more likely to take risks on new contactless payment technology as cash use decreased across their regions. Take Klarna and Afterpay as examples of fintech success stories.

First, I engaged in market research and pored over annual reports to decide whether I should look abroad for funding, instead of applying to funds closer to home. I looked at Nielsen reports, payment publications, PaymentSource and numerous government documents or white papers to figure out the cash usage globally.

My investigations revealed that fintech in Australia was far ahead of the curve, with four-fifths of the population using contactless payments. The financial services sector is also the largest contributor to the national economy, contributing around $140 billion to GDP a year. Therefore, I spoke to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the U.S., and they recommended some regulatory payment groups.

I immediately flew to Australia to meet with the banking community, and I was able to find an Australian investor by word of mouth who was surrounded by the demand for mobile payment solutions.

In contrast, an investor in the U.S. still using cash and card had no interest in what I had to say. This highlights the importance of market research and seeking out investors rather than waiting for them to come to you. There is no science to it; leverage your network and reach out to people over LinkedIn, too.

The need to diversify the VC industry internally

VC funding needs to become more inclusive for women and minority groups by tackling the pipeline problem and addressing the level of diversity within VC funds. All of the networks that VCs reach out to first tend to come from university programs at Stanford, MIT and Harvard. These more privileged and wealthy students are able to easily leverage the traditional and outdated networks built to benefit them.

The number of venture dollars flowing to Black and Latinx founders is dismally low partly due to this knowledge gap; many female and minority founders don’t even know that VC funding is an option for them. Therefore, if you do receive seed funding, spread the news about it within your networks to help others.

Inclusion starts at the educational level but, when the percentage of Black and minority students at these elite colleges are still low, you can see why minority representation is needed in the VC ranks. Even if representation rises by a percent, that would be a significant change.

There are increasing numbers of VC funds announcing initiatives and interest in investing in minority businesses, and I would recommend looking at these in-depth. But what about the demographics of the VC firms? How many ethnicities are present in the executive ranks?

To change the venture-backed startup ecosystem, we need to start at the top and diversify those signing the checks. Looking toward the future, it is Black-led funds, like Sequoia, or others that focus on diversity, like Women’s Venture Fund, BackStage Capital and Elevate Capital Inclusive Fund, that are lighting the way to solutions that will reflect the diversity of the U.S.

It’s up to the investor community at large to be intentional about building relationships with, and ultimately providing funding to, more women and minority-led startups.

Despite the barriers and hurdles minority founders face when searching for VC funding, more and more avenues for acquiring funding are appearing as the disparities are brought to the media’s attention.

As the outdated system adjusts, the key is to continue preparing yourself for rejections and searching for appropriate accelerators to build vital networks. Then, if you aren’t having any luck, consider what you could do with your business idea without the VC funding or turn to foreign markets, which may have a different setup and varied opportunities.

#column, #diversity, #entrepreneurship, #financial-technology, #funding, #opinion, #private-equity, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Extra Crunch roundup: China’s new data privacy law, fractional farming, debt vs. equity

China’s first data privacy laws go into effect on November 1, 2021. Will your company be in compliance?

Modeled after the EU’s GDPR, the new regulations “[introduce] perhaps the most stringent set of requirements and protections for data privacy in the world,” writes Scott W. Pink, special counsel in O’Melveny’s Data Security & Privacy practice.

In a comprehensive overview, he explains its key requirements and compliance steps for U.S.-based firms that service Chinese consumers.

“American firms doing business in China or with companies inside China will need to immediately start assessing how this new law will impact their activities,” he advises.


Now that the world has embraced remote work, are visas as critical for startup founders who want to succeed in the United States?

On Tuesday, September 14, at 2 p.m PT/5 p.m. ET, Managing Editor Danny Crichton and immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn will discuss the matter on Twitter Spaces.

They’ll take questions from the audience, so mark your calendar and follow @techcrunch on Twitter to get a reminder before the chat.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Fintech is transforming the world’s oldest asset class: Farmland

Minnesota soybean field during early morning sunrise

Image Credits: hauged (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Whether or not he actually said it, “buy land, they ain’t making any more of it,” is one of Mark Twain’s best quotes on capitalism.

Past recessions and the ongoing pandemic have created real uncertainty about the future of commercial and residential real estate, but farmland is “historically stable,” says Artem Milinchuk, founder and CEO of FarmTogether.

Anatomy of a SPAC: Inside Better.com’s ambitious plans

Speech bubble with home

Image Credits: mikroman6 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Online mortgage company Better.com isn’t waiting to complete its SPAC merger before making big moves: Ryan Lawler reported that it purchased Property Partners, a U.K.-based startup that offers fractional property ownership.

It’s the second company Better bought in recent months: In July, it snapped up digital mortgage brokerage Trussle.

“We aren’t so easily categorized,” said Better CEO Vishal Garg, who told Ryan that the company plans to soon expand into traditional financial services like auto loans and insurance.

Said CFO Kevin Ryan, “a lot of people have their niches in the way they’re attacking this, but we feel like we’re on a path to being full stack where everything’s embedded in the same flow.”

5 factors that can make or break a startup’s growth journey

Rusty old keys isolated on a white background.

Image Credits: JoKMedia (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

If you don’t have a good story to share, it doesn’t matter how big your marketing budget is.

“Paid marketing can be a useful tool in your toolkit to accelerate an already humming flywheel. Just don’t let it be the only one,” suggests Brian Rothenberg, a two-time founder who’s now a partner at Defy.

Drawing from his time as VP of growth for Eventbrite, he shares five critical factors for kick-starting, maintaining and measuring growth over the long term.

Debt versus equity: When do non-traditional funding strategies make sense?

A close up of a woman's hands, one holding an apple the other hand holding a doughnut

Image Credits: Peter Dazeley (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Many potential founders are well-versed in startup economics — and many are completely green.

When it comes to raising funds, understanding the relative benefits (and limitations) of debt and equity financing is required knowledge, however.

Founders who are less willing to dilute their control may be willing to use debt financing to fund their capital expenditures, “but it doesn’t make sense for everyone,” says six-time entrepreneur David Friend.

Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Image Credits: Getty Images

Last year, startups based in Southeast Asia raised more than $8.2 billion, a 4x increase from 2015.

In the first half of 2021, regional M&A has increased 83% to a record $124.8 billion.

It’s not just venture capitalists and Big Tech who are beefing up their presence in the region.

“Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion,” writes Amit Anand, a founding partner of Jungle Ventures.

Edtech leans into the creator economy with cohort-based classes

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Natasha Mascarenhas examined the parallels between edtech and the creator economy, both of which boomed amid the pandemic — and blurred amid the rise of cohort-based classes.

“Edtech and the creator economy certainly differ in the problems they try to solve: Finding a VR solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than streamlining all of a creator’s different monetization strategies into one platform. Still, the two sectors have found common ground in the past year.”

Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization

photo of a fitting room with a three-way mirror and a rack of dresses

Image Credits: Liyao Xie (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Were the shoes, jacket and makeup that looked so good on Instagram (and in your shopping cart) disappointing when you put them on for the first time?

Due to buyer’s remorse, it’s not uncommon for apparel or beauty products to languish in the back of a drawer or end up as gifts, but there are also serious consequences.

“The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills,” Sindhya Valloppillil, founder and CEO of Skin Dossier, notes in a guest column.

The answer to bringing sustainability to the industry, she says, is using tech to personalize the retail experience:

  • AR virtual try-on with shade matching
  • Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion
  • Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology

Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion

Illustration of Onyeka Akumah of Plentywaka

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Twenty million people live in Lagos, Nigeria, and each day, 14 million of them use the city’s transit system.

Travelers rely on overcrowded public buses that navigate congested routes: What should be a 30-minute trip is often a three-hour journey, but Treepz CEO and co-founder Onyeka Akumah “has big plans to ameliorate the public transport infrastructure in Africa and beyond,” writes Rebecca Bellan.

“We wanted to give people a better way to commute with predictability, where they can know when the bus will get here, the certainty that they will have a seat in a vehicle, that it’s a decent vehicle and a safe one where you can bring your laptop,” said Akumah.

“Those are the things we said we wanted to change.”

Dear Sophie: When can I apply for my US work permit?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My husband just accepted a job in Silicon Valley. His new employer will be sponsoring him for an E-3 visa.

I would like to continue working after we move to the United States. I understand I can get a work permit with the E-3 visa for spouses.

How soon can I apply for my U.S. work permit?

— Adaptive Aussie

#africa, #asia, #better-com, #china, #diversity, #ec-roundup, #education, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #nigeria, #onyeka-akumah, #retail, #sophie-alcorn, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #transportation

Shared micromobility can help build communities residents deserve

Twenty years ago, many of us had never heard of shared micromobility, let alone contemplated it as a tool for developing healthier, more equitable communities.

But as of 2020, more than 200 cities in North America have at least one shared micromobility system in operation with a combined 169,000 vehicles. As the industry has grown, so too has the realization that something as seemingly small as the way people get from place to place can significantly impact their quality of life.

One of the most surprising yet impactful roles that shared micromobility has filled recently is that of a supporter of racial justice initiatives and events.

According to the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association’s 2020 Shared Micromobility State of the Industry Report, agencies and operators provided free or discounted trips for demonstrators to get to events, while many systems donated or fundraised for racial justice nonprofits.

Importantly, the increased attention on diversity, equity and inclusion further brought to light our shortcomings and led to organizational change throughout the industry. For example, 71% of shared micromobility systems stated that diversity was part of every hiring decision in 2020, and 69% reported that women and people of color are represented at all levels of the organization.

Of course, we collectively recognize that we are not where we want or should be. However, these metrics demonstrate intention and mark progress toward improved equity, diversity and inclusion in shared micromobility.

We in the shared micromobility industry are continually adapting our policies and practices as we work to fit the needs of the communities we serve, whether providing discount programs for lower-income residents or making adaptive vehicles available for persons of different abilities, we understand that mobility is a right for everyone.

Even more than that, agencies and operators recognize the importance of providing active modes of mobility for people and communities to build healthier habits, which ultimately can have positive economic, social and environmental impacts.

In 2020, North Americans gained an additional 12.2 million hours of physical activity and offset approximately 29 million pounds of carbon dioxide by utilizing shared micromobility.

Additionally, researchers at Colorado State University calculated that in an average year, bike-share users saved the U.S. healthcare system more than $36 million, while another study concluded that scooter users accounted for $921 of unplanned spending per scooter at food and beverage establishments.

Shared micromobility must be considered a part of public transportation networks to maximize the community benefits and build truly functional cities. Multimodal commuting is becoming more commonplace and sought for by urban travelers. In 2020, 50% of riders reported using shared micromobility to connect to transit, and 16% of the 83.4 million shared micromobility trips taken in the same year were for connecting to public transit. Increased use and requirement of the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS), an open data standard for shared micromobility, clarifies the growing importance of an integrated trip planning user experience.

Shared micromobility is a powerful tool, when fully taken advantage of, that helps transform our cities for the better. As cities, states, provinces and nations face equity, social and climate challenges, now is a critical time to engage shared micromobility as a critical component of change.

#bike-sharing, #column, #diversity, #micromobility, #north-america, #opinion, #scooter-sharing, #shared-micromobility, #tc, #transportation

Make accessibility part of your startup’s products and culture from day one

The world of accessibility has experienced a tipping point thanks to the pandemic, which drove people of all abilities to do more tasks and shopping online.

For the last year, the digital world was the only place brands could connect with their customers. A Forrester survey found that 8 in 10 companies have taken their first steps toward working on digital accessibility.

What’s driving this change besides the increased digital interactions? Fortune 500 companies are finally starting to realize that people with disabilities make up 1 billion of the world’s market. That population and their families control more than $13 trillion in disposable income, according to Return on Disability’s “The Global Economics of Disability.”

However, only 36% of companies in Forrester’s survey are completely committed to creating accessible digital experiences.

Although digital accessibility has been around for decades, companies have not caught on to its benefits until recently. In its latest survey, the WebAIM Million analysis of 1 million home pages found accessibility errors on 97.4% of the websites evaluated.

What does this mean for you? Why should you care about this? Because this is an opportunity for your company to get ahead of the competition and reap the rewards of being an early adopter.

The benefits of digital accessibility

Companies are now realizing the advantages of creating accessible products and properties that go beyond doing the right thing. For one, people are living longer. The World Health Organization says people aged 60 and older outnumber children under 5. Moreover, the world’s population of those who are 60 and older is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, up from 900 million in 2015.

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative provides an overview on Web Accessibility for Older Users. Here’s what it reveals.

  • Hearing loss affects 47% of people aged 61 to 80.
  • Vision decline affects 16% of people aged 65 to 74.
  • Mild cognitive impairment affects 20% of people over 70.
  • Arthritis affects more than 50% of people over 65.

In short, developing accessible digital products helps you reach a much larger audience, which will include you, your co-workers and your family. Everyone is going to become situationally, temporarily or episodically impaired at some point in their lives. Everyone enters a noisy or dark environment that can make it harder to see or hear. An injury or an illness can cause someone to use the internet differently on a temporary basis. People with arthritis, migraines and vertigo experience episodes of pain and discomfort that affect their ability to interact with digital devices, apps and tools.

Additionally, no one has ever advocated against making products and websites accessible to more people. Despite this, the relative universal appeal of accessibility as a principle does not mean that it will be as easy as explaining the need and getting people on board to make major organizational changes. A lot of work remains in raising awareness and educating people about why we need to make these changes and how to go about it.

You have the why. Now here are five things to help you with how to make changes in your company to integrate accessibility as a core part of your business.

1. Tap the right people to create accessible experiences

According to the second annual State of Accessibility Report, only 40% of the Alexa Top 100 websites are fully accessible, proving the needs of people with disabilities are, more often than not, being overlooked when creating web experiences.

To design for people with disabilities, it’s important to have an understanding of how they use your products or web properties. You’ll also want to know what tools will help them achieve their desired results. This starts with having the right people on board.

Hiring accessibility experts to advise your development team will proactively identify potential issues and ensure you design accessibly from the start, as well as create better products. Better yet, hiring people with disabilities brings a deeper level of understanding to your work.

2. Hire designers passionate about accessibility

Having accessibility experts on your team to provide advice and guidance is a great start. However, if the rest of your team is not passionate about accessibility, that can turn into a potential roadblock. When interviewing new designers, ask about accessibility. It’ll gauge a candidate’s knowledge and passion in the area. At the same time, you set an expectation that accessibility is a priority at your organization.

Being proactive about your hires and making sure they will contribute to a culture of accessibility and inclusion will save you major headaches. Accessibility starts in the design and user experience (UX) phase. If your team doesn’t deliver there, then you will have to fix their mistakes later, essentially delaying the project and costing your organization. It costs more to fix things than to build them accessibly in the first place.

3. Remember that accessibility is for everyone

People deciding whether to invest in accessibility often ask themselves how many people are going to use the feature. The reasoning behind the question is understandable from a business perspective; accessibility can be an expense, and it’s reasonable to want to spend money responsibly.

However, the question is rooted in one of the biggest misconceptions in the field. The myth is that accessibility only benefits people who are blind or deaf. This belief is frustrating because it greatly underestimates the number of people with disabilities and minimizes their place in society. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge that people who may not have a disability still benefit greatly from accessibility features.

Disability is a spectrum that all of us will find ourselves on sooner or later. Maybe an injury temporarily limits our mobility that requires us to perform basic tasks like banking and shopping exclusively online. Or maybe our vision and hearing change as we age, which affects our ability to interact online.

When we understand that accessibility is about designing in a way that includes as many people as possible, we can reframe the conversation around whether it’s worth investing in. This approach sends a clear message: No business can afford to ignore a fast-growing population.

Think about it this way: If you have a choice of taking an elevator or the stairs, which would you take? Most pick the elevator. Those ramps on street corners called curb cuts? They were initially designed for allowing wheelchairs to cross the street.

Yet, many use these ramps, including parents pushing strollers, travelers pulling luggage, skateboarders rolling and workers moving heavy loads on dollies. A feature initially designed for accessibility benefits far more people than the original target audience. That’s the magic of the curb-cut effect.

4. Hire agencies that build accessibly by default

Whether you have a small team or are expanding an in-house accessibility practice, working with an agency can be an effective way to embrace and adopt accessible practices. The secret to a successful partnership is choosing an agency that will help your team grow into its accessibility practice.

The key to finding the right agency is selecting one that builds accessibly by default. When you know you are working with an agency that shares your organization’s values, you have a trusted partner in your mission of improving accessibility. It also removes any guesswork or revisions down the line. This is a huge win, as many designers overlook details that can make or break an experience for a user with a disability.

Working with an agency focused on providing accessible experiences narrows the likelihood of errors going unnoticed and unremedied, giving you confidence that you are providing an excellent experience to your entire audience.

5. Integrate accessibility into your supply chain

On any given day, enterprises and large organizations often work with dozens of stakeholders. From vendors and agencies to freelancers and internal employees, the nature of business today is far-reaching and collaborative. While this is valuable for exchanging ideas, accessibility can get lost in the mix with so many different people involved.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to align these moving pieces of a business into a supply chain that is focused on accessibility at every stage of the business. When everyone is completely bought in, it cuts the risk of a component being inaccessible and causing issues for you in the future.

The startup advantage

A major challenge that comes up repeatedly is the struggle to change the status quo. Once an organization implements and ingrains inaccessible processes and products into its culture, it is hard to make meaningful change. Even if everyone is willing to commit to the change, the fact is, rewriting the way you do business is never easy.

Startups have an advantage here: They do not bear years of inaccessible baggage. It’s not written into the code of their products. It’s not woven into the business culture. In many ways, a startup is a clean slate, and they need to learn from the trials of their more established peers.

Startup founders have the opportunity to build an accessible organization from the ground up. They can create an accessible-first culture that will not need rewriting 10, 20 or 30 years from now by hiring a diverse workforce with a passion for accessibility, writing accessible code for products and web properties, choosing to work with only third parties who embrace accessibility and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

Many of these considerations here have a common denominator: culture. While most people in the technology industry will agree that accessibility is an important and worthy cause to champion, it has a huge awareness problem.

Accessibility needs to be everywhere in software development, from requirements and beyond to include marketing, sales and other non-tech teams. It cannot be a niche concern left to a siloed team to handle. If we, as an industry and as a society, recognize that accessibility is everyone’s job, we will create a culture that prioritizes it without question.

By creating this culture, we will no longer be asking, “Do we have to make this accessible?” Instead, we’ll ask, “How do we make this accessible?” It’s a major mindset shift that will make a tangible difference in the lives of 1 billion people living with a disability and those who eventually will have a disability or temporary, situational or episodic impairments affecting their ability to use online and digital products.

Advocating for accessibility may feel like an uphill battle at times, but it isn’t rocket science. The biggest need is education and awareness.

When you understand the people you build accessible products for and the reasons they need those products, it becomes easier to secure buy-in from people in all parts of your organization. Creating this culture is the first step in a long quest toward accessibility. And the best part is, it gets easier from here.

#accessibility, #column, #disability, #diversity, #software-development, #startups, #tc, #web-accessibility

Dear Sophie: How can I present a strong O-1A or EB-1A application?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

A few years ago, I moved my startup’s headquarters to New York from Estonia on an E-2 investor visa.

I’ve taken on a few investors since then, but if I take on more, I run the risk of no longer qualifying for an E-2 because my equity is diluting. I’m considering either having my startup sponsor me for an O-1A visa or self-petitioning an EB-1A green card.

Any advice or insights on how to present a strong case for an O-1A or EB-1A? Thanks!

— Savvy Startup Founder

Dear Savvy,

Congrats on your success so far! Yes, we have many best practices to pass along for filing for an O-1A extraordinary ability visa or an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card.

Nadia Zaidi, an associate attorney at Alcorn Immigration Law and an expert in immigration law services for startups and creatives, and I recently did a podcast reviewing what to keep in mind when filing for an O-1A visa, EB-1A green card or EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card. Take a listen! I would also recommend you consult an experienced immigration attorney who can help you determine the best approach based on your timing and goals.

Keep in mind that if you pursue an O-1A visa, you will need to show that your startup and you have an employer-employee relationship, or you will need an agent to file on your behalf. If demonstrating an employer-employee relationship, that usually involves showing that your startup’s board of directors oversees your work and can fire you.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

You might also want to consider filing for International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP). My firm has filed several IEP petitions on behalf of clients. Based on our experience, it takes less time to prepare an IEP petition than an O-1A petition because it’s not as document-intensive. Moreover, if you’re married and you’re granted IEP status, your spouse will be eligible to apply for a work permit. The spouse of an O-1A visa holder is not eligible for a work permit.

Getting back to answering your question, here are some best practices for filing for either an O-1A or an EB-1A:

Field of expertise

Spend some time homing in on your area of expertise. Because both the O-1A and EB-1A are for individuals of extraordinary ability or accomplishments who are at the top of their field, the more narrowly defined your field of expertise is, the easier it will be to demonstrate that you are at the top of it. For example, instead of listing tech entrepreneurship as your area of expertise, narrow it to something like entrepreneurship focused on developing machine learning software for the healthcare industry. Work with an experienced immigration attorney to craft your field for the petition.

Qualification criteria

Familiarize yourself with the qualification criteria for the O-1A and EB-1A, which are similar, and determine which of your skills and achievements best meet the criteria. As a startup founder, the critical and essential role you play at your startup should be easy to demonstrate. Remember, this is not the time to be humble.

Under your leadership, how much funding has your startup raised? Have you received any significant awards? What is your startup’s annual recurring revenue, and how many jobs have you created in the U.S.? Were you invited to judge a pitch competition, speak on a panel or mentor others based on your background, experience or skill set? Were you invited to become a member of an exclusive organization that has a rigorous selection process? Are you a thought leader in your field?

You will need to gather recommendation letters — more on those in a moment — and documentary evidence to demonstrate your achievements, such as a scan or photo of an award, email correspondences, copies or screenshots of articles written either about you or by you, or screenshots of a conference agenda or presentation on YouTube that generated a significant number of views. You should know that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not consider awards or prizes given out at the university level to be significant accomplishments. Some investments through competitions can qualify as awards, and some investments might not.

Recommendation letters

We typically recommend obtaining five to eight letters from experts in your field who can discuss your abilities and accomplishments and the significance of their impact on your field or beyond. Typically, the more details and examples provided in the recommendation letter — discussed in easy-to-understand terms — the more compelling the letter. You should keep in mind that the immigration official who is evaluating your case will likely not be an expert in your field.

It’s often valuable to submit letters from a variety of individuals, such as those who have worked directly with you and those who only know of you based on your work within your field, academic and professional experts, and individuals from both inside and outside the United States.

Make sure to ask prospective recommenders if they’re willing to submit a letter to USCIS on your behalf. While most recommenders are time-constrained individuals who prefer that you write a draft letter that they can edit, some recommenders prefer to write their own letters, which is good to know from the get-go. Make sure that those individuals who are doing so are willing to edit and make changes to any drafts, such as eliminating jargon or adding more detail.

The process of finalizing recommendation letters and getting them signed along with gathering documentary evidence for a case usually takes longer than most people anticipate. That said, get started!

All the best in the next phase of growing your startup!

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

#column, #diversity, #green-card, #immigration-law, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #talent, #tc, #verified-experts, #work-visa

Diversifying startups and VC power corridors

Startups have a seemingly intractable problem: a lack of diversity. Despite research showing that diverse founding teams have a higher rate of return than white founding teams, one characteristic of startups remains relatively unchanged: the dearth of BIPOC and women founders, investors, board members, and counsel in the venture capital (VC) ecosystem.

Why should we care? Venture capital has provided early funding for the most innovative and profitable companies of our time — Apple, Amazon, Google (now Alphabet), just to name a few. These companies have changed the way we live, work and play by impacting how we communicate, how we process information, and how we buy goods. With approximately one-quarter of U.S. professionals employed by the high-tech sector — comprising about 5% to 6% of the total workforce, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — imagine how much more innovation could happen with more diverse individuals at the table who bring different life experiences and perspectives. And we’re already seeing states enacting laws, and companies changing their practices, to help make this happen in the public company realm.

Many founders of VC-backed startups are white, male, and Ivy League or internationally educated. Women-founded companies receive a fraction of VC investments compared to all-male founded companies. In 2020, women-led startups received only 2.3% of all VC money. As of June 2021, less than 20% of total VC deals went to a startup with at least one female founder.

When looking at BIPOC representation in the VC ecosystem, the numbers are even more abysmal. Three percent of VC investors are Black and 1.7% of VC-backed startups have a Black founder. The number of Latinx founders in VC-backed startups is even lower — 1.3%. Plus, only 2.4% of funding was allocated to Black and Latinx founders from 2015 to August 2020. And, on the startup boards of high tech companies, women hold a mere 8% of the board seats.

But the lack of diversity extends beyond who gets funding or who is in the boardroom; it is also a problem in the executive suite. In California, Asian Americans were among the least likely to be promoted to manager or executive positions, and less than 2% of high-tech executives are Black.

This lack of diversity in the VC ecosystem is a structural problem that has no easy solution. While some VC firms have begun allocating funds for trainings and mentorship programs, additional steps need to be taken.

For example, laws on board diversity have already passed in a few states, but they apply only to public companies and typically focus on gender diversity. The laws generally fall into one of three categories — they mandate, encourage, or require disclosure of board diversity. In 2018, California led the way with SB 826, California’s board gender diversity law, which required public companies headquartered in California (irrespective of where they were incorporated) to have a minimum of one woman on each of their boards by the end of 2019. By the end of this year, the minimum threshold increases to two if the board has five directors and three if it has six or more directors. (In the statute, female is defined as “an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”)

The law has already had an impact: between 2018 and March 2021, the number of board seats held by women in such companies increased by a whopping 93.6%, but the law is currently being challenged in the courts.

While legislation regarding gender diversity on public company boards has been passed in certain states, even fewer laws address the issue of the lack of minorities on boards. Only 12.5% of the board members of the 3,000 largest public companies come from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups despite the fact that these groups comprise 40% of the U.S. population. Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity reported data that Fortune 500 board seats were held by individuals identified as African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino(a), and Asian/Pacific Islander at the rates of 8.7%, 4.1%, and 4.6%, respectively, in 2020.

In order to address this underrepresentation, California’s AB 979 requires that a public company headquartered in California has at least one director from an “underrepresented community” by the end of 2021, with the minimum number increasing by the end of 2022. That definition includes someone who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

In addition to California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington have also enacted some type of board diversity measure. Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and Ohio have proposed legislation, too. 

Non-governmental initiatives are also being considered. As an example, NASDAQ proposed new listing standards to the SEC requiring disclosure of board diversity. Goldman Sachs announced that it would manage initial public offerings only for companies with at least one diverse board member.

These kinds of laws, however, may be difficult to implement in startups. In order to change the narrative on diversity in startups, change cannot be limited to the board but rather should have a multi-pronged approach focused on diversifying (1) employees in middle and executive management, (2) directors in the boardroom, and (3) the VC firms and other funders.

With startups, board diversity mandates similar to the one passed in California would likely not work in the early stages given the size of these boards. However, creating a culture where diversity is prioritized can manifest itself in other ways.

For example, limited partners who invest in VC funds could contractually obligate their general partners to consider diverse candidates for their firms as well as the board and management of any portfolio companies. VCs can also continue to diversify the limited partners that invest in their funds by eschewing their immediate networks and more actively reaching out to groups historically underrepresented in the startup ecosystem, such as HBCUs. In fact, some VCs are using diversity riders in term sheets to do just that. VCs also need to take a hard look at what type of questions they ask their BIPOC and female founders and consider how they may differ in ways that are detrimental to those historically underrepresented in startups.

We are missing opportunities to foster further innovation by not taking more concrete action to add diversity to the startup ecosystem. There is no magic bullet to address the lack of diversity in the startup ecosystem. However, there are steps that founders, VCs, and limited partners can take to make strides in the right direction.

#column, #diversity, #government, #policy, #venture-capital

Dear Sophie: Can I still get a green card through marriage if I’m divorcing?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I received a conditional green card after my wife and I got married in 2019. Recently, we have made the difficult decision to end our marriage. I want to continue living and working in the United States.

Is it still possible for me to complete my green card based on my marriage through the I-751 process or do I need to do something else, like ask my employer to sponsor me for a work visa?

— Better to Have Loved and Lost

Dear Better,

I’m sorry to hear your marriage didn’t work out. Rest assured, you can still proceed with getting a full-fledged green card even though you and your wife are divorcing. Listen to my recent podcast with Anita Koumriqian, my law partner, in which we discuss the removal of conditions on permanent residence for people who got two-year green cards through marriage.

As you know, since you were married for less than two years when you applied for your green card through marriage, you were issued a conditional green card that is only valid for two years rather than a 10-year green card. The purpose of the I-751 is to show that the couple entered into a genuine, good faith marriage. Usually, couples must file an I-751 petition together. However, an individual may file a petition without a spouse if any of the following apply:

  • If the marriage ended through annulment or divorce.
  • If the U.S. citizen spouse died.
  • If the conditional resident (and/or children) was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty.

If your divorce is not yet finalized and you don’t have a family law attorney yet, I do recommend that you work with a family law attorney, who is necessary to help streamline the process. I also recommend consulting an immigration attorney as soon as possible to prepare the I-751 filing since it can get tricky for an individual in divorce proceedings. Both need to work together and in parallel to ensure that everything goes smoothly for you with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

When to file to remove conditions on permanent residence

The I-751 should be filed within the 90-day period before your conditional green card is set to expire. I recommend filing as soon as you can within that window. Keep in mind that, if you file your I-751 petition too early, it may be returned to you. And if you file it after your conditional green card expires, you not only face having to leave the U.S., but USCIS could also deny your petition if you fail to provide a compelling reason. If you are in this situation, definitely let your immigration attorney know.

#column, #diversity, #divorce, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #green-card, #immigration, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #talent, #tc, #united-states, #verified-experts

It’s time for the VC community to stop overlooking the childcare industry

Square. Uber. Zillow. Airbnb. Besides being some of the biggest technology companies, what else do these titans have in common? They all operate in entrenched, highly fragmented, geographically localized and regulated industries. That means they required a lot of upfront venture capital investment to disrupt their respective markets. And the investment has paid off — these are now some of the most valuable companies in the world.

Venture capital alone hasn’t funded some of the largest companies. One of today’s most successful tech entrepreneurs was funded by massive infusions of investment from the federal government — Elon Musk received $4.9 billion in public subsidies for his companies, including SpaceX and Tesla. Moreover, government investment, via tax credits for electric vehicle purchases, made it more affordable for consumers to buy the green transportation they needed.

But one massive industry has not yet benefited from the large amounts of money that both venture capital and government can provide: Childcare. Families in the United States spend $136 billion on infant and child care every year, and the market is only growing. If you include school-age care and education for all children under 18, that number grows to $212 billion. In investor terms, the TAM (total addressable market) is huge.

To put things in perspective, one new company has raised more funding in 2021 than the entire childcare industry.

So where is the investment? Biden’s current compromise on an infrastructure plan does not include many provisions for childcare. Venture investment in this space is nascent and insufficient. In 2020, only $171 million was invested in care and early childhood education. The funding situation has improved in 2021, with $516 million invested in childcare, but it’s still just a tiny fraction of the $288 billion of venture capital invested so far this year.

To put that in perspective, a single new company has raised more funding in 2021 than the entire childcare industry.

Funding emerging childcare technology may require a lot of upfront capital. For starters, the industry is regulated and safety is and should remain a priority. Caring for and educating young children takes training, skill and love — it cannot be done by a computer.

But there are so many facets of the industry that are ripe for innovation. Parents sometimes take weeks to find a childcare provider that meets their needs. In some markets, there is not nearly enough supply (three children for every licensed slot) to meet the demand. Assessing quality, pricing and availability is challenging, and payments and business operations tools for the nation’s 300,000+ daycares are still often pen, paper and Excel spreadsheet affairs.

This industry just needs patient investors with long-term perspectives.

This is a great time to diversify investment portfolios and support relatively recession-proof companies meaningfully expanding access to childcare. COVID has finally started to bring this largely offline industry online. Parents are now willing to go digital for childcare decisions and providers are adopting new online technologies at a record pace. These tailwinds provide the perfect conditions for startups.

Solving this problem is a huge business opportunity that affects so much else. When the millions of parents with young children can’t find care, they can’t work. We saw this over and over again since the start of the pandemic. The average American family can spend up to 25% of their income on early childhood care, while the average care worker makes approximately $12 an hour.

Unlocking innovation here at scale will require public and private investment. Government shapes and enables markets, from the explosion of technology that followed from Kennedy’s investment in the space race to more recent fundamental investments in wind, solar and electric vehicles. NASA catalyzed dozens of new technologies in the 1960s because it had both a generous budget and the flexibility to work with the best private-sector contractors available to solve specific problems.

The revitalization of the childcare sector would benefit from an ambitious and galvanizing “moonshot” goal, like providing universal, free childcare for all Americans.

By collaborating with flexibility and creativity across the public and private sectors, we can achieve a basic shared goal that other democracies have already fulfilled — the accessible provision of high-quality childcare for all members of society.

#child-care, #column, #corporate-finance, #covid-19, #diversity, #economy, #federal-government, #opinion, #startups, #tc, #tesla, #uber, #venture-capital

When it comes to diversity in hiring, businesses are their own worst enemy

Over the past year, companies have continued to make ambitious pledges to address bias and systemic racism in the hiring process. But the track record of previous corporate diversity efforts is shaky at best. Is this time going to be different?

The answer will depend on whether companies are able to look inward to understand and dismantle the long-standing practices that too often keep skilled workers locked out of opportunities. That’s because when it comes to equity and inclusion in hiring, businesses are often standing in their own way.

It’s not that hiring managers and corporate executives don’t want to effect change. Rather, over the past year, well-meaning business and HR leaders invested in short-term, one-time solutions — like hosting events or donating to nonprofits. Make no mistake: Those aren’t necessarily bad ideas. But they’re not systemic and they’re not sustainable. It’s like saying where you’re going on vacation without building the roads you need to get there.

Today’s business leaders are using yesterday’s tactics in an attempt to address tomorrow’s problems.

This reliance on tried-and-true solutions is common across nearly every facet of society — hence the popular proverb that military generals “fight the last war, not the next one.” Today’s business leaders are using yesterday’s tactics in an attempt to address tomorrow’s problems. And if companies don’t take a more strategic, data-driven approach to diversity, we’re going to look back a year from now and find that despite the best of intentions, no more progress has been made.

What will it take to make good on our good intentions and put that systemic change into action? Research — and our own experience as corporate leaders — points to a few potential solutions.

First, stop thinking of the college degree as the best proxy for skills. A body of research indicates that the correlation between educational attainment and job performance is weaker than we might think — and that degree requirements systematically disenfranchise Black and Hispanic candidates.

Not only that, but screening based on a bachelor’s degree automatically leaves out 60% of American workers, including the more than 70 million people without four-year degrees who have the skills to succeed in higher-wage jobs (sometimes called STARs, for Skilled Through Alternative Routes).

Companies can take action right away to address this challenge. That could include new strategies that measure skills directly. IBM has long been a pioneer in this space through its commitment to skills-based hiring, which enables the company to make hiring decisions based on what candidates can do, not the pedigrees they’ve earned.

It could also include following the lead of companies like Capital One, which hires based on aptitude — and provide internal learning and development and on-the-job training opportunities to help new hires learn the skills they need to succeed on the job. The advantages of these approaches are obvious: Hiring based on skills rather than degrees opens up a much wider talent pool, increases value in terms of wages and can lead to more loyal employees and higher retention rates.

Second, recognize that when it comes to how you invest your budget and effort, training is at least as important as recruiting. As the pace of technological change accelerates and the need for digital talent grows, it’s become increasingly clear that talent poaching is an “expensive zero-sum game” that leaves companies scrambling — and paying a premium — for the same small pool of talent.

This challenge is even more acute in the context of diversity and inclusion. If Company X recruits a minority candidate who’s already had a successful career at Company Y, has that really contributed to building a more inclusive workforce in any meaningful way? The net number of workers in the industry is the same — you’re just playing musical chairs with the labor market. That may be appropriate for senior leadership roles, but it will never grow the top of the funnel if the same strategy is applied to entry-level or more junior positions.

The real way to move the needle isn’t simply to commit to hitting diversity numbers for your organization — which all too often incentivizes lateral hiring from competitors — but to provide jobs and career advancement opportunities to those who otherwise are unemployed or underemployed. Investing in training can support these efforts by both expanding the talent pool and giving companies a better return on their investment than traditional recruiting models.

Last but not least, facilitate better communication within the enterprise. No one sets out to build inequitable talent pipelines. But talent-acquisition professionals — like most professionals — have limited time and huge remits. As a result, especially in technology and data-oriented fields, there is a growing disconnect between HR departments that post jobs and the business departments that leverage the talent.

For understandable reasons, HR departments aren’t directly connected to the workflows for specific roles, which often leads to job descriptions that include laundry lists of requirements and look like “buzzword salad.” This ends up turning away the best and the most diverse talent, who often screen themselves out because they don’t meet every single requirement.

Building stronger connections between hiring managers and the rest of the enterprise can help create a clearer understanding of what skills are most important — and keep businesses from screening out qualified candidates before they even get a chance to prove themselves.

Systemic change is never easy. And that’s especially the case in a recovering economy and a tightening labor market, where businesses are under more pressure than ever to fill open roles. But inflection points like this one also create opportunities to think and act differently, rather than falling back on the status quo. From the C-suite to hiring managers and other frontline decision-makers, times of turmoil and transformation may be the best opportunity to translate aspiration into meaningful action.

That’s the challenge that stands before U.S. businesses now: investing in a more systemic approach to equity and inclusion so that we can build a world of work that reflects the values to which we all aspire.

#column, #diversity, #human-resource-management, #opinion, #recruitment, #talent, #talent-management, #tc

Dear Sophie: Tips on EB-1A and EB-2 NIW?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’m on an H-1B living and working in the U.S. I want to apply for a green card on my own. I’m concerned about only relying on my current employer and I want to be able to easily change jobs or create a startup. I’ve been looking at the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW.

I’m not sure if I would qualify for an EB-1A, but since I was born in India, I face a much longer wait for an EB-2 NIW. Any tips on how to proceed?

— Inventive from India

Dear Inventive,

Thanks for your question. Take a listen to my podcast episode in which I discuss the latest tech immigration news and delve into the benefits and requirements of the EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary ability and the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which as you know are the main employment-based green cards for which individuals can self-sponsor.

I recommend you consult an experienced immigration attorney who can evaluate your abilities and accomplishments and assess your prospects for each green card. After an initial consultation with new clients, we’re able to provide a lot more detail to folks on their specific options since these are such individualized pathways.

There are some groups of people who might need every advantage. Those can include folks born in India or China, who might face long green card backlogs. Another such group includes people whose skills and accomplishments might be borderline for an EB-1A green card for extraordinary ability. In some cases — if eligible and to have every opportunity for green card security and to mitigate wait times as much as possible — our clients choose to file both the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW in parallel.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

The EB-1A is the highest priority green card and the standard for qualifying is much higher than for the EB-2 NIW. And that means an EB-1A is typically quicker to get, which is particularly the case now: According to the August 2021 Visa Bulletin, there is no wait for an EB-1A green card regardless of country of birth, while only individuals who were born in India and have a priority date of June 1, 2011 or earlier can proceed with their EB-2 NIW petition.

Please remember that the Visa Bulletin fluctuates and changes every month. Also, the EB-1A is currently eligible for premium processing on the I-140. Although there is talk to add this option to the EB-2 NIW one day, premium processing is not available for EB-2 NIW I-140s yet.

#column, #diversity, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #green-card, #h-1b-visa, #immigration, #immigration-law, #labor, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #verified-experts

Swiftarc Ventures launches beauty fund aimed at women-led startups

Swiftarc Ventures announced its $10 million Swiftarc Beauty Fund to support female founders leading the next wave of beauty and wellness brands.

Swiftarc started in 2019 and this is its fourth fund, Sid Jawahar, founder and managing partner told TechCrunch.

“We are being socially conscious and deliberate in solving the funding issue for female founders and diverse founders,” he said. “We took a hard look around Black Lives Matter and other awakenings and made the decision to be deliberate in trying to right an industry wrong.”

At the same time, Swiftarc itself is matching this by aiming for its firm’s employee base to be 50% diverse by 2022, Jawahar added.

He feels the beauty industry is stuck in time, where 75% to 80% of sales are still made from wholesale. E-commerce and digitally native brands are just the tip of the iceberg, he said. What has changed is the emphasis on inclusive beauty, with buyers of diverse backgrounds becoming majority purchasers. In addition, it is now not just about the brand, but building a community in order to be successful, Jawahar said.

That’s why Swiftarc brought in Fabian Urquijo, president, whose background is in P&G and Revlon, to lead the firm’s beauty efforts.

“While at Revlon, we saw that independent brands that were digitally native could address unmet needs with personalization that the legacy brands can’t address,” Urquijo said. “Most of their growth is driven by that, and they end up being acquired by the big brands and continue to lead that growth.”

The fund will target categories including clean and sustainable beauty, science-backed beauty products, technology-enabled and community-driven beauty and gender-neutral and inclusive brands.

Jawahar anticipates funding five to seven companies so that Swiftarc can provide the right kind of expertise to the companies, but could increase that to 10. The firm already invested in Alleyoop, a makeup and skincare line for busy women.

The fund combines financing with mentorship, peer-to-peer networking opportunities and targeted training facilitated by an all-female Beauty Council that includes industry, investment and beauty startup executives providing unique and relevant perspectives to the women-led startups. The council committed to helping 100 to 200 female founders in their journey from key introductions to foundational expertise.

Swiftarc’s engagement director Leslie Wolfson is building the Beauty Council and said she “wanted to curate a group of strong women with diverse backgrounds, career experiences and willingness to mentor and share their experiences and knowledge with founders.”

 

#beauty, #diversity, #e-commerce, #fabian-urquiljo, #funding, #leslie-wolfson, #sid-jawahar, #swiftarc-ventures, #tc, #venture-capital

How the law got it wrong with Apple Card

Advocates of algorithmic justice have begun to see their proverbial “days in court” with legal investigations of enterprises like UHG and Apple Card. The Apple Card case is a strong example of how current anti-discrimination laws fall short of the fast pace of scientific research in the emerging field of quantifiable fairness.

While it may be true that Apple and their underwriters were found innocent of fair lending violations, the ruling came with clear caveats that should be a warning sign to enterprises using machine learning within any regulated space. Unless executives begin to take algorithmic fairness more seriously, their days ahead will be full of legal challenges and reputational damage.

What happened with Apple Card?

In late 2019, startup leader and social media celebrity David Heinemeier Hansson raised an important issue on Twitter, to much fanfare and applause. With almost 50,000 likes and retweets, he asked Apple and their underwriting partner, Goldman Sachs, to explain why he and his wife, who share the same financial ability, would be granted different credit limits. To many in the field of algorithmic fairness, it was a watershed moment to see the issues we advocate go mainstream, culminating in an inquiry from the NY Department of Financial Services (DFS).

At first glance, it may seem heartening to credit underwriters that the DFS concluded in March that Goldman’s underwriting algorithm did not violate the strict rules of financial access created in 1974 to protect women and minorities from lending discrimination. While disappointing to activists, this result was not surprising to those of us working closely with data teams in finance.

There are some algorithmic applications for financial institutions where the risks of experimentation far outweigh any benefit, and credit underwriting is one of them. We could have predicted that Goldman would be found innocent, because the laws for fairness in lending (if outdated) are clear and strictly enforced.

And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that the Goldman/Apple algorithm discriminates, along with every other credit scoring and underwriting algorithm on the market today. Nor do I doubt that these algorithms would fall apart if researchers were ever granted access to the models and data we would need to validate this claim. I know this because the NY DFS partially released its methodology for vetting the Goldman algorithm, and as you might expect, their audit fell far short of the standards held by modern algorithm auditors today.

How did DFS (under current law) assess the fairness of Apple Card?

In order to prove the Apple algorithm was “fair,” DFS considered first whether Goldman had used “prohibited characteristics” of potential applicants like gender or marital status. This one was easy for Goldman to pass — they don’t include race, gender or marital status as an input to the model. However, we’ve known for years now that some model features can act as “proxies” for protected classes.

If you’re Black, a woman and pregnant, for instance, your likelihood of obtaining credit may be lower than the average of the outcomes among each overarching protected category.

The DFS methodology, based on 50 years of legal precedent, failed to mention whether they considered this question, but we can guess that they did not. Because if they had, they’d have quickly found that credit score is so tightly correlated to race that some states are considering banning its use for casualty insurance. Proxy features have only stepped into the research spotlight recently, giving us our first example of how science has outpaced regulation.

In the absence of protected features, DFS then looked for credit profiles that were similar in content but belonged to people of different protected classes. In a certain imprecise sense, they sought to find out what would happen to the credit decision were we to “flip” the gender on the application. Would a female version of the male applicant receive the same treatment?

Intuitively, this seems like one way to define “fair.” And it is — in the field of machine learning fairness, there is a concept called a “flip test” and it is one of many measures of a concept called “individual fairness,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I asked Patrick Hall, principal scientist at bnh.ai, a leading boutique AI law firm, about the analysis most common in investigating fair lending cases. Referring to the methods DFS used to audit Apple Card, he called it basic regression, or “a 1970s version of the flip test,” bringing us example number two of our insufficient laws.

A new vocabulary for algorithmic fairness

Ever since Solon Barocas’ seminal paper “Big Data’s Disparate Impact” in 2016, researchers have been hard at work to define core philosophical concepts into mathematical terms. Several conferences have sprung into existence, with new fairness tracks emerging at the most notable AI events. The field is in a period of hypergrowth, where the law has as of yet failed to keep pace. But just like what happened to the cybersecurity industry, this legal reprieve won’t last forever.

Perhaps we can forgive DFS for its softball audit given that the laws governing fair lending are born of the civil rights movement and have not evolved much in the 50-plus years since inception. The legal precedents were set long before machine learning fairness research really took off. If DFS had been appropriately equipped to deal with the challenge of evaluating the fairness of the Apple Card, they would have used the robust vocabulary for algorithmic assessment that’s blossomed over the last five years.

The DFS report, for instance, makes no mention of measuring “equalized odds,” a notorious line of inquiry first made famous in 2018 by Joy Buolamwini, Timnit Gebru and Deb Raji. Their “Gender Shades” paper proved that facial recognition algorithms guess wrong on dark female faces more often than they do on subjects with lighter skin, and this reasoning holds true for many applications of prediction beyond computer vision alone.

Equalized odds would ask of Apple’s algorithm: Just how often does it predict creditworthiness correctly? How often does it guess wrong? Are there disparities in these error rates among people of different genders, races or disability status? According to Hall, these measurements are important, but simply too new to have been fully codified into the legal system.

If it turns out that Goldman regularly underestimates female applicants in the real world, or assigns interest rates that are higher than Black applicants truly deserve, it’s easy to see how this would harm these underserved populations at national scale.

Financial services’ Catch-22

Modern auditors know that the methods dictated by legal precedent fail to catch nuances in fairness for intersectional combinations within minority categories — a problem that’s exacerbated by the complexity of machine learning models. If you’re Black, a woman and pregnant, for instance, your likelihood of obtaining credit may be lower than the average of the outcomes among each overarching protected category.

These underrepresented groups may never benefit from a holistic audit of the system without special attention paid to their uniqueness, given that the sample size of minorities is by definition a smaller number in the set. This is why modern auditors prefer “fairness through awareness” approaches that allow us to measure results with explicit knowledge of the demographics of the individuals in each group.

But there’s a Catch-22. In financial services and other highly regulated fields, auditors often can’t use “fairness through awareness,” because they may be prevented from collecting sensitive information from the start. The goal of this legal constraint was to prevent lenders from discrimination. In a cruel twist of fate, this gives cover to algorithmic discrimination, giving us our third example of legal insufficiency.

The fact that we can’t collect this information hamstrings our ability to find out how models treat underserved groups. Without it, we might never prove what we know to be true in practice — full-time moms, for instance, will reliably have thinner credit files, because they don’t execute every credit-based purchase under both spousal names. Minority groups may be far more likely to be gig workers, tipped employees or participate in cash-based industries, leading to commonalities among their income profiles that prove less common for the majority.

Importantly, these differences on the applicants’ credit files do not necessarily translate to true financial responsibility or creditworthiness. If it’s your goal to predict creditworthiness accurately, you’d want to know where the method (e.g., a credit score) breaks down.

What this means for businesses using AI

In Apple’s example, it’s worth mentioning a hopeful epilogue to the story where Apple made a consequential update to their credit policy to combat the discrimination that is protected by our antiquated laws. In Apple CEO Tim Cook’s announcement, he was quick to highlight a “lack of fairness in the way the industry [calculates] credit scores.”

Their new policy allows spouses or parents to combine credit files such that the weaker credit file can benefit from the stronger. It’s a great example of a company thinking ahead to steps that may actually reduce the discrimination that exists structurally in our world. In updating their policies, Apple got ahead of the regulation that may come as a result of this inquiry.

This is a strategic advantage for Apple, because NY DFS made exhaustive mention of the insufficiency of current laws governing this space, meaning updates to regulation may be nearer than many think. To quote Superintendent of Financial Services Linda A. Lacewell: “The use of credit scoring in its current form and laws and regulations barring discrimination in lending are in need of strengthening and modernization.” In my own experience working with regulators, this is something today’s authorities are very keen to explore.

I have no doubt that American regulators are working to improve the laws that govern AI, taking advantage of this robust vocabulary for equality in automation and math. The Federal Reserve, OCC, CFPB, FTC and Congress are all eager to address algorithmic discrimination, even if their pace is slow.

In the meantime, we have every reason to believe that algorithmic discrimination is rampant, largely because the industry has also been slow to adopt the language of academia that the last few years have brought. Little excuse remains for enterprises failing to take advantage of this new field of fairness, and to root out the predictive discrimination that is in some ways guaranteed. And the EU agrees, with draft laws that apply specifically to AI that are set to be adopted some time in the next two years.

The field of machine learning fairness has matured quickly, with new techniques discovered every year and myriad tools to help. The field is only now reaching a point where this can be prescribed with some degree of automation. Standards bodies have stepped in to provide guidance to lower the frequency and severity of these issues, even if American law is slow to adopt.

Because whether discrimination by algorithm is intentional, it is illegal. So, anyone using advanced analytics for applications relating to healthcare, housing, hiring, financial services, education or government are likely breaking these laws without knowing it.

Until clearer regulatory guidance becomes available for the myriad applications of AI in sensitive situations, the industry is on its own to figure out which definitions of fairness are best.

#algorithmic-bias, #apple, #apple-card, #artificial-intelligence, #casualty-insurance, #cfpb, #column, #data-discrimination, #discrimination, #diversity, #federal-trade-commission, #financial-services, #fintech, #machine-learning, #occ, #opinion, #payments

Pushing for an ‘apolitical’ workplace is immoral (and unrealistic)

“We are not a social impact company. No more societal and political discussions on our company account.”

That’s been the recent message from a number of tech CEOs who have declared that they want the companies they run to be “apolitical” and employees to focus solely on the goals of growing revenue and driving profit.

That’s left me wondering: What might that mean for me as an LGBTQIA+ person in the workplace?

I don’t consider myself a particularly political person. I just want to do a good job, be a supportive team member and leader, and play a valuable role in the organization that employs me. I’m lucky to work as chief information security officer at Elastic, a software company that prioritizes inclusivity and acceptance for all employees, telling us to come as we are.

When we consider who gets to define what’s political or not, we need to think hard about the level of privilege they enjoy — and whom they might be excluding from everyday workplace conversations.

But what if things were different?

If I worked for a different company, would being a gay woman who’s out at work make me “political?” Would talking with colleagues about my home life and my family be considered a political act?

It would all depend, I guess, on whom you asked. I’m well aware that, to certain people, being out in the workforce might be considered political — but I’m just being open and transparent about who I am.

Staying in the shadows

When we consider who gets to define what’s political or not, we need to think hard about the level of privilege they enjoy — and whom they might be excluding from everyday workplace conversations.

Managers and executives who insist on an apolitical workplace are inevitably asking some employees, particularly those belonging to historically underrepresented groups, to stay in the shadows, to keep quiet about who they are.

I’ve been there and I’ve felt the impact firsthand. Earlier in my career, I hid my sexual orientation. I wore a virtual mask at work, and it was exhausting and stressful to have to worry about who knew my “secret” and what might happen if the truth got out.

It was also a significant distraction from doing my job. Even if bosses aren’t concerned about the emotional impact of mandating an apolitical workplace on their employees, they might at the very least consider the productivity impact.

A recent survey from online careers site Glassdoor found that LGBTQ+ employees are less satisfied at work compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts, and that while certain companies and industries are highly rated by LGBTQ+ employees, many others still have considerable progress to make.

Since it’s no secret that less satisfied employees are likely to be less engaged, that could potentially send corporate metrics that focus on productivity, performance and retention into a nosedive.

Conversely, a 2020 report published by strategy firm McKinsey suggests that diversity helps organizations increase innovation, reconsider entrenched ways of thinking and improve financial performance — but also stresses that they only enjoy these benefits if all employees feel a sense of inclusion. The study’s authors define this as “the degree to which an individual feels that their authentic selves are welcomed at work, enabling them to contribute in a meaningful and deliberate manner.”

The firm’s survey of almost 2,000 employees, across a wide range of companies and industries worldwide, shows clearly that women, respondents from ethnic and racial minorities, and people who identify as LGBTQ+ still encounter additional challenges to feeling included.

Working from home

On top of all this, it’s not realistic to ask people to leave their personal lives and beliefs at home after huge numbers of employees began working from home on a full-time basis amid the pandemic, many for the first time ever. If strict lines between their personal and professional lives were clearer for some employees pre-COVID, those days are almost certainly over.

While the pandemic forced many organizations to restructure the workplace, I’ve been working in a fully remote, distributed environment since joining Elastic in 2018. This has shaped how I manage my team because every individual has their own perceptions and experiences, all of which can be more challenging to identify in a distributed workforce. In particular, I’ve learned that building an inclusive, high-functioning team starts with empathetic leadership.

For me, it’s all about being present, asking questions and not making assumptions. When everyone is working in their own environment, it’s easy to postulate about how someone’s feeling about their work or a particular project, because that’s human nature — but the danger here is that we jump to the negative. Staying curious and seeking to understand is key at all times.

Above all, it’s about inclusion and acceptance. Giving everyone the freedom to express what’s on their mind. That’s how everyone should feel about their workplace, and it’s the environment I will continue to work to foster for my own team — because oftentimes, the personal is political, and companies are made up of people, not products.

#column, #diversity, #glassdoor, #human-resource-management, #mckinsey, #talent, #tc, #work, #workplace

How Twilio is moving beyond a diversity numbers game toward becoming an anti-racist company

When George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, it set off a firestorm of protests and shed a bright hot spotlight on the issues of racism in America and elsewhere. As a response, many companies gave messages of support to people of color, yet have failed to make substantive change since that time. One company that is attempting to move beyond lip service and diversity quotas is Twilio, whose CEO Jeff Lawson has made a commitment to work toward being an anti-racist company.

As part of that commitment, he hired Lybra Clemons, who has years of experience in corporate diversity jobs, as chief diversity officer and the two of them have worked together with the rest of the executive team to try and execute the company’s anti-racist vision.

It’s a complex and challenging task to parse personal bias and institutional and societal racism and try to build a company that actively works to combat all of this, but Lawson and Clemons seem determined to be an example to all tech companies.

As part of this effort, the company published a diversity report recently, partially to document its progress and partly to share some of the lessons it has learned as it goes on this journey to build a better and more inclusive company.

I spoke to both executives to learn about their efforts and how they think about anti-racism, deal with it on multiple levels from personal to business to societal — and how the work is never really done.

Making the effort

Clemons said that when she came on board in September 2020, it was part of an overall effort on the part of Lawson and the executive team to commit to being anti-racist, and part of her job was to help define what that meant. In part, it was an effort to move beyond some of “the perfunctory responses” from other companies, but also an honest attempt at trying to do something different to improve how they hired people, and the systems they put in place to make people feel welcome and succeed, regardless of who they were, what they looked like or where they came from.

“I’m not saying that all companies are like that, but there were a lot of perfunctory responses [after George Floyd was murdered],” Clemons told me. “I do believe that there was a full-on commitment [at Twilio] to figure out what it means to become an anti-racist company, [figuring out what] anti-racism means — which we are grappling with right now — and, if we use that lens, how we’ll be able to approach diversity, equity and inclusion in a different way.”

Lawson says that this isn’t something he just picked up on in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. He has been thinking about this for a long time. One of Twilio’s early backers was Kapor Capital. The firm’s principals, Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, who have been preaching about diversity and inclusion for decades, encouraged Lawson to come to meetings with other founders to discuss diversity in the early days of the company, which was founded in 2008.

In an interview in 2017, Kapor Klein told TechCrunch about the importance of establishing a positive culture as early as possible in a startup’s evolution because it becomes much harder, the larger you get as a company.

“It’s almost impossible to overemphasize the importance of intentionally building a positive culture from the start. Finding time to articulate values, principles and how you want to be known is critical. There’s always too much to do, but retrofitting culture or diversity and inclusion in a big company is much harder,” she said at the time.

Lawson says these early meetings with the Kapors and other startup founders helped plant the seeds about the kind of company he wanted to build. He realized at the time that as focused as he was on building the successful business his startup would become, there was no perfect time to start thinking about DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging), and it was his responsibility as the leader of his startup to begin thinking about it right then and there, before, as he said, “the company was a thousand white men.”

That thinking evolved over the last year on how to build an anti-racist company, a concept he picked up by reading the book ‘How To Be An Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi, and he is committed to that approach.

“Anti-racism just speaks to the fact that there are systems, institutionalized systems in any society … that biases certain people over others, and that can be done intentionally or unintentionally, and the work of anti-racism is to say, let’s try to do the work and to identify what those systems are, and then ask how we can combat that,” Lawson said.

Using data to move, not prove

Clemons says that throughout the mid-2000s, the standard way of looking at diversity was simply to look at the data and pat yourself on the back if you reached your diversity goals, but she said that she wanted to help Twilio use the data to move beyond that approach to use data to drive substantive change at the company.

“The data is helping us understand that either we increased or we didn’t increase in this particular demographic or population. So how do we use the data to actually move and make some changes or shifts to our policies or practices and so forth,” she said.

“This is a full journey of really understanding the history of the U.S., the history of the world as it relates to racism, colonialism, all of the -isms, colorism and homophobia, and addressing that. Figuring out what our choices are, our individual stakes in them and then using that as a way to build out anti-racist policies and practices to actually start to make some shifts in our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.”

In a story earlier this year about Valence, a startup with the goal of advancing Black professionals in the workplace, company CEO Guy Primus said he wants to help companies move beyond the numbers game that Clemons referenced.

“People want the numbers to go up, and there’s [this notion of] recruit, retain and promote. The problem is that everyone is focused on the recruiting pipeline, but they’re not focused on retention and promotion, which ultimately affects recruiting. So it’s an ecosystem problem, not a pipeline issue,” Primus told TechCrunch at the time.

That’s an area where Twilio is moving into actionable programs to help move beyond simply recruiting, although that’s clearly part of it, and helping build a company where every employee feels appreciated, that they can succeed based on their skills, and that they truly belong.

The Twilio report cites a number of specific programs to help make this happen.

One is called Hatch, which launched in 2017. Hatch looks for folks from non-traditional backgrounds who have been through a coding boot camp and puts them in a six-month apprenticeship program. The program is designed to teach them more advanced coding skills and learn what it takes to be a successful coder with coaching and mentorship.

Lawson says that as of last year, 93% of the folks who came through this program are still with the company. That’s a track record that suggests people are coming into the company, which is putting systems in place to help ensure their success.

Other programs include Rise Up, which helps Black and Latinx employees move into management positions via a leadership development program, and Twilio Unplugged, which teaches candidates from historically excluded backgrounds how to succeed in a tech company interview process to get through that initial step to get hired.

These and so many more programs are designed to help achieve the company’s anti-racism goals. Lawson is the first to admit that it is not a perfect system, and that with the help of Clemons and others, he and the rest of the executive team are still working and learning and trying to build a company where everyone can succeed and everyone feels a part of the team.

Twilio is still 60% male and just over 38% female, a number that was up 6% in 2020. The overall racial and ethnic makeup of the company is around 51% white, 26% Asian, 6.5% Latinx and 5.5% Black. While the ratio of whites to nonwhites is quite favorable, with a large percentage of Asians, it still has work to do when it comes to other historically excluded groups.

Twilio work demographics chart.

Image Credits: Twilio

The company certainly understands that. Lawson says that by working on an individual, company and societal level, Twilio hopes to do its part to improve its own record and continue to get better at this. Part of that is sharing what they’ve learned in the report, not to pat themselves on the back, but to bring the conversation outside the company.

As Clemons said in the video that accompanied the company’s diversity report: “Everyone has their experience. Everyone comes in with all types of experiences, whether good or bad, and we cannot change that, but what Twilio can do is provide a space for those to feel like they are part of something, and it goes back to this anti-racist framework of ensuring that there’s equity for all people to feel like they can have a great career and a great career journey at Twilio.”

#diversity, #jeff-lawson, #tc, #twilio