With Siren, the award-winning Seattle-based, female-founded dating app, closing its doors last week, creatives were dealt another stark reminder of how volatile startup funding can be. According to a recent study on diversity among Seattle-area startups, it’s even worse for women and people of color.
While the Seattle startup ecosystem is one of the fastest-growing in the country, only 17 percent of venture-backed Seattle companies have a woman on their founding team. Catalyze Seattle study researchers Ruchika Tulshyan and Martha Burwell also found that women working at startups here are paid at least 10 percent less than their male counterparts, while people of color are paid about 15 percent less than their white colleagues.
But how does this happen? Tulshyan, journalist and author of “The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace,” will shed more light on these findings on Wednesday, April 19 for the panel discussion “The Growing Gender & Race Gap in Seattle’s Startup Scene” co-organized by General Assembly and The Seattle Globalist. The talk also features stories and “real talk” from some of Seattle’s most courageous female startup founders, including Trish Millines Dziko of the Technology Access Foundation, Mischa Jakupcak of Mechanical Dreams VR and Arry Yu of Giftstarter.
In the meantime, here’s a little preview from Tulshyan herself about why her and her colleagues conducted this study pro-bono, and what the response has been from startup leaders:
What was the inspiration for this study?
“Just very personally, I had actually spent time at a startup and … what I did find was that there were a lot of subtleties, which made me feel quite excluded and made me realize that, actually there is an opportunity for this environment to learn how to be more inclusive so that women and people of color and all the intersectionality that comes with these communities … have a seat at the table.”
Additionally: “There really was a dearth of data around what it’s like for underrepresented people to work in startups and to start companies.”
You mentioned one thing that stood out in your findings: Tell us about what you call the “female founder effect.”
“What we found was … the more women founders there are that work at the company — the more women, the more more people of color and the more parents actually end up working at those companies.
“So there was a direct correlation … between more … female founders and more underrepresented communities actually working at those startups.”
Did anything else jump out in terms of common characteristics of more diverse startups?
“Yeah, definitely. Startups where there were more benefits for parents (and especially women), where there were more flexible opportunities, where there was even more paid parental leave made a huge difference.
“… A big factor that actually deterred women from staying in startups was ‘bro culture,’ and a lot of women kind of expressed that culturally, they felt very excluded in the startups that they were working in. And again, anecdotally my researchers and I had heard this, but to actually get numbers around it, to actually be able to …. get anonymous anecdotes about how difficult it can be: I think that really helped bring this to light.”
After sharing [your findings] with the startup community here, what has the response been?
“We were lucky to get a lot of media coverage, and as a result, startup founders, aspiring startup founders, those who work at startups have come to us (my researchers and I) and shared stories and been very candid about this. … We just wanted startups to have this conversation, but we’re actually having a lot of startup founders and leadership teams try and engage with us as well to talk about ‘what are some of the common challenges?’ and ‘where do we go from here?’ And ‘does that mean instituting a paid parental leave policy?’ and ‘how do we do this with limited financial resources?’
“And I think as a result, we’re starting to see that the conversation is becoming a lot richer because it’s got data and numbers behind it. We’re not just talking about how we feel or what we think; we’re literally able to go to startup founders and leadership teams and say, ‘Look, here are some actual numbers to back up things that we’re experiencing.’”
And ultimately, what do you want to come out of this?
“I think the startups are the the best community to effect a lot of change because if you are able to build diversity and inclusion and have that be very much part of [your company] from day one, the results and the benefits are so much greater than if you manage to build your company into … the next big thing, and then retroactively, you have to worry about diversity and inclusion and try to fit it in.
“So we’re really hoping that more Seattle-based startup founders [and leadership teams] will think about … how to ensure diversity and inclusion are very much a part of their fabric.”
Hear more about Seattle tech diversity over drinks on Wednesday, April 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at General Assembly’s downtown Seattle office. Tulshyan will be joined by Seattle startup founders Trish Millines Dziko (Technology Access Foundation), Arry Yu (Giftstarter) and Mischa Jakupcak (Mechanical Dreams VR). RSVP and learn more.
To learn more about the startup study, visit www.catalyzeseattle.org.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.