The need to support diversity in the startup environment is as strong as ever, as one founder explains.
By Stephanie McLean (Founder, Trendy Treat)
Building a startup while black is evidently a unique experience. Having grown up outside the U.S. in the dynamic island paradise of Jamaica, a predominantly black country, with black leaders and even a black woman Prime Minister at the country’s helm for years, I’ve never viewed my skin color as a limitation.
I perhaps have the Jamaican signature exceedingly high self confidence. Jamaicans go hard and excellence is expected. It’s ingrained in the cultural fabric, a tiny island that has produced the World’s Fastest Man, one of the World’s most beloved musicians.
Like most Jamaicans, I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.
I’m not even sure if I ever had much of a consciousness of racial perceptions in relation to my abilities or inabilities. I operated in a vacuous, meritocracy for decades until I migrated to the U.S., that I became more racially aware. I’ve spent time in Africa, am a proud black woman and embrace all people, of all races in the world.
Moving to the U.S. at 17, I’d started to realize that my world was becoming significantly less diverse, I was increasingly finding myself in rooms surrounded by fewer and fewer black and minority people and again, it wasn’t much of a thought.
Law School was not bursting at the seams with minorities; there were so few minorities in the entire program that it was a bit like Cheers — we all knew each other’s names. Graduate school was also not filled with minorities and during my current entrepreneurial journey, launching my fashion start up, Trendy Treat, minorities have been noticeably absent.
My Tech Vision Board
All the tech women on my digital vision board whom I aspire to be like professionally are white: Net-A-Porter’s Natalie Massenet is my “Who I’d want to be when I grow up.” I admire Sheryl Sandberg for being a visionary, Sophia Amorouso for her left of center and not trying to fit in spirit and Alexa Von Tobel for her ability to execute effortlessly.
These four women anchor my tech dreams so to speak. They are a daily reminder of what is possible for me as a woman in tech and none of them look like me.
I began to seriously ponder if this cause for concern? Am I out of my league? Where are all the Sisters in tech? In the fast moving technology space, the absence of women is a frequent grouse. The recent Silicon Valley lawsuit and countless headlines about the lack of diversity of tech are frequent discussion points in the community.
The fight for gender equality seems to not have gotten to the granular level of racial equality just yet, maybe the movement is too new.
What does it all mean anyway? Should I throw my hands up and get a 9-to-5 job? I’m evidently good on paper and went to enough fancy schools to be able to hold a seat someplace in steady paycheck land. Should I join or create a movement for racial equality in technology? I’m genuinely not sure of the right answer.
The Future Of Minority Women
The issue of race in tech is complex. Personally, I’ve never viewed being a black woman as a hindrance in launching a tech venture. My company is early stage and I have not done the fundraising tango significantly just yet. My viewpoint may be naive and idealistic at this juncture.
My mantra has always been: Find opportunity everywhere.
Until more minority women enter and excel in the industry, the playing field will never be level. As an entrepreneur, I capitalize on all my unique attributes and view them as assets and not hindrances. There are actually venture capital and business organizations available for minority women, including Kesha Cash’s Jalia Ventures.
I view being a black woman as another access point to additional networking groups for underrepresented entrepreneurs. As more minority women enter the space, I suspect that in a few years, there will be minority women in tech who have had break-out successes and are household names
While we aren’t where we want to be just yet, I’m bursting with optimism that we will get there.
What do you think is the greatest barrier to minority entrepreneurs?
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Named a Ms Tech #Monday Maker and a Lumiary Maker, Stephanie McLean has always been a lifelong lover of travel and a style enthusiast. After law school, she combined her passions and launched Trendy Treat , a socially conscious lifestyle portal for globally glamorous modern women.