For too long, the venture industry has externally advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion on behalf of its portfolio companies, while not taking actionable measures to address the issue internally. In order to catalyze change in both our industry and society at large, we are examining our own practices as well as supporting our portfolio companies in their DEI journeys.
At GC, we uphold Diversity of Thought as one of our core values. We fundamentally believe that the best investment and business decisions arise from a team with more diverse (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives. This is true of all businesses but is particularly true of venture — an industry that aims to predict the future. What will be the transformative and enduring technologies that best serve the needs of diverse constituencies? In this effort, it’s key to have a team that represents society’s composition in age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and many other forms of identity.
DEI is not a new initiative at GC — we have been on this journey for more than three years and believe we have made significant strides since its inception. We wanted to codify our efforts to not only track our own progress but also to inspire our peers to embrace some of the changes we’ve already made, foster accountability, and encourage ‘radical collaboration’ in the DEI space.
Like most organizations, this wasn’t an easy journey. At the start, we struggled internally with balancing the time it takes to put together a thoughtful approach and having immediate actions to show. It felt like no matter what we did, we were moving too slow for some and too fast for others. However, we believe one thing that has made GC’s DEI journey effective is embracing a growth mindset, a belief that we can all learn more, and that any new initiative naturally entails mistakes and failure. This growth orientation has helped us create a more forgiving atmosphere where hopefully we can be honest about where we’re at and what we don’t know.
One of our most important first steps was the Racial Justice Learning Series. In March 2021, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and difficult events and conversations around race, we launched a learning series for the firm, our portfolio companies, other VCs, LPs, and our entire ecosystem. The goal was to continue deepening our understanding of structural racism and its impacts to our business, and to provide a forum for the firm with a safe space to have hard conversations and dialogue. The 6-session series included topics around: History of Structural Racism; What is Racial Justice?; The Impact of Racism in the VC & Tech Industry; How to Promote Racial Justice in Your Organization; Racial Healing & How to be an Ally. This was critical because we needed to start with the why: Why does DEI work matter and why should we care? Without that knowledge, this work risks becoming a box to check off. But continually coming back to the why keeps us focused on our belief that DEI is not just another thing we do, but should be infused in everything we’re doing because it enables greater success and serves as a foundational element of Responsible Innovation.
In late 2021, we developed a comprehensive strategic plan that outlines our goals, actions, and the metrics we will use to measure our progress. We just refreshed that strategy in July 2023, and our most recent Racial Equity and DEI Strategy can be viewed here. Below are a few highlights of the actions we have taken, which we are sharing in the hope that it inspires our industry to learn from our journey so far:
TOP ACTIONS- INTERNAL
- Gender and racial diversity data: Every quarter we update our demographic data to understand the gender and racial diversity of our team, broken down by department and location. We track our progress over time and share summary-level data on our website.
- Ron Brown Scholars High School Externship program: For the past 3 years, GC has partnered with the Ron Brown Scholars program to host high-performing, low-income, African-American high school students across the U.S. in a week-long externship. During the week, the students receive an overview of the VC industry and exposure to multiple aspects of GC’s operations and investment strategy. This program has two goals; it provides us early access to a pipeline of top talent for future openings at GC, and it exposes students who have historically been underrepresented in the industry to VC.
- Employee pulse survey: GC conducts periodic employee pulse surveys to understand and measure employee experience, including feelings of inclusion and belonging, and tracks progress over time.
- Learning & Development: Employees went through a dynamic unconscious bias training led by Paradigm. In addition, this year people managers have gone through a series of training sessions with Lifelabs Learning intended to equip managers with the skills to promote and foster an inclusive culture where talent can thrive. Topics included feedback skills, coaching skills, productivity & prioritization, and effective 1:1s.
TOP ACTIONS- EXTERNAL
- Portfolio diversity survey: In 2021, GC launched an annual survey of our portfolio companies to measure the racial and gender diversity amongst their founders, boards and leadership teams, and their current DEI practices. In 2022, we repeated the survey and found that on nearly every dimension, the racial and gender diversity of our portfolio company founders, boards and leadership teams have increased. The detailed report can be found here.
- DEI support to portfolio companies: We have developed a DEI Toolkit, available to all GC portfolio companies, which provides guidance and resources to get started and continue progress on their DEI journey. We used the results from the 2022 Portfolio Diversity Survey to understand which DEI practices our portfolio companies would most like to start and are enhancing our DEI toolkit to include more resources on areas where portfolio companies want it most.
- Racial justice learning series: As mentioned above, we started the learning series in 2021. In 2022, we expanded the series with a focus on the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience (select recordings available here). We intend to continue the series next year with a focus on the Hispanic/Latinx experience.
- Coalition: The Coalition Network was built with the intent to diversify the cap tables of some of the world’s most promising start-ups by creating a community of prominent women and women of color who are eager to leverage their talents and expertise as founders, operators and angel investors. General Catalyst is a founding member.
In the last three years, we’re proud of the progress we have made in creating a holistic, thoughtful approach and real, concrete actions with ways to measure progress. But there is still much more work to be done. In line with our mission, we strive to be agents of change, working to transform companies, industries, and the world around us. These words ring true when it comes to the DEI work we have led, and we are committed to continue to be a true catalyst for the change we want to see in the world.