New Year, New Opportunity to Move the Needle on Diversity & Inclusion

01/22/2018Lisa Nelson

As we embrace a new year, it’s a natural time to reflect on where we are as an industry and what we want to resolve to do better in the future. While there has been a lot of discussion about diversity and inclusion over the past year, it’s still an area where sustained attention and action is needed. I’m encouraged by the conversations happening across forums like the NVCA blog and LinkedIn, which are driving greater awareness for the topic, but, I think we can all agree that discussion alone is not enough. As we look to the year ahead, and into the future, we’re building for the venture capital industry, I think we need to take advantage of this heightened awareness and be the agents of change our industry needs deserves.

I’m personally grateful that I work on a team that was established with D&I as a priority from the outset.  And at a company that has made D&I a strategic imperative.  We recognize that more needs to be done, but I know we’re on the right path with the right leaders in place to make continued progress. And it really is about leadership. It’s incumbent upon each of us to lead by example. We all have a responsibility to create a culture where the backgrounds and viewpoints of all our customers, partners, and colleagues are well represented – and where our employees feel respected and empowered to do their very best work every day.

We know that there are a number of founders that also want to do more and do better, but they don’t know where to begin. Or they don’t have the luxury of creating teams focused on solving these problems internally.  Within Microsoft Ventures, we have an amazing portfolio development team that we often refer to as our “secret weapon” – their mission is to help our companies grow and scale, leveraging the Microsoft ecosystem.  As part of these efforts, it’s incumbent upon us to empower the entrepreneurs we partner with to be more inclusive. It will take a lot of work to get there, but we are committed to using our influence, assets, and network to accelerate the pace of change.  Here are some resources that are available to our portfolio companies today:

Additionally, we are eager to leverage our network to introduce our founders to some of the amazing resources that already exist like Project Include and TheBoardlist who are also trying to move the needle on D&I.

Of course, education is just the first step in creating awareness and identifying improvements that are needed. For our founders that are ready to take the next step, as of today, we are also sponsoring access to D&I experts that can help them on their journey to building a more diverse and inclusive company.

If we are ever going to foster the sense of community that’s needed to propel this industry to new heights, then it’s critical for each of us to ensure that people feel like they belong – and that’s not something I think can be solved by any one VC firm or startup – we all need to do our part.  At Microsoft Ventures, we want to invest in companies and partner with entrepreneurs who share our commitment to creating an environment where D&I is not optional.

I strongly encourage our portfolio companies to take advantage of the resources I’ve highlighted. If there are any of you that (sadly) still don’t think you can prioritize D&I because you are resource constrained, then remember this – companies with diverse workforces perform better financially.  So clearly, it’s the type of return where we all stand to benefit.