Tech has a diversity problem. This isn’t new. Women and minorities have long been woefully underrepresented in startup land, a problem that founders have insisted they are trying their best to fix. However, a new survey conducted by venture firm First Round Capital suggests that many startup founders may have given up hope of achieving diversity in tech, with most doubting that gender or racial parity will be achieved anytime soon.
The survey polled more than 500 venture-backed founders, around 17 percent of whom identified as female. According to the survey, most startup founders think it’ll take more than a decade for the tech industry to become representative of the general population when it comes to gender and racial diversity. More than a third think it will take more than two decades. Despite having multiple questions about racial diversity in tech, the survey did not collect any data on the ethnic breakdown of its respondents, nor did it ask startup founders about the diversity of their teams.
When asked to explain their grim predictions, many founders blamed the underrepresentation of women and minorities in tech on the so-called pipeline problem, with 36 percent of respondents claiming that the lack of diversity stemmed from low numbers of women and minorities entering the industry. The second most popular explanation pointed to unconscious bias in hiring, promotions, or compensation, while the third cited poor recruitment practices in college STEM programs.
Roughly 78 percent of the startup founders surveyed said their organization had no formal plans or policies in place to promote diversity and inclusion; of those, 15 percent said they had no plans to adopt one. Still, the share of founders with formal plans did increase to 21 percent, from 17 percent recorded in First Round’s 2017 survey. The earlier survey was notable because roughly a fifth of respondents thought that the problem of sexual harassment in tech companies had been overblown by the media. Events since would suggest otherwise.
Unsurprisingly, more than half of the founders surveyed reported that their board did not include a single woman, and 43 percent described their team as primarily made up of men. That could account for the discrepancy in how respondents characterized the challenges of being a parent in tech. While more than 66 percent of male founders described tech companies as being inclusive for parents, 34 percent of female founders said the same. That could also have something to do with the fact that the survey found female founders who have or are expecting children were twice as likely to report experiencing bias from investors. Or maybe it’s related to the fact that 65 percent of founders reported having no dedicated space for nursing mothers, or that 90 percent offer no childcare support.
For startups based in Silicon Valley, though, one thing is certain: If they grow into successful companies, they’re going to need to find some women for their boards.
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