Diversity in entrepreneurship: We all have a voice

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Thanks to everyone who came to our session on diversity in entrepreneurship at EntreFEST yesterday. We had about 30 people engaged in conversation - everyone from people who work on diversity for their day jobs, to people who weren't familiar with the issue at all and had found our session through EntreFEST.

I hope it was productive and worthwhile for all.

Check out Kiran's post for her perspective as a diverse person. These are the biggest things that strike me. What would you add?

Be an ally: One of the breakout groups asked the question, how can a white male participate in the diversity conversation?

It can be intimidating for someone from a majority group to voice an opinion when diversity is such a loaded topic. If I go to a diversity-focused event, will I be seen as an intruder? How can I help, without patronizing anyone? What if I say the wrong thing?  There might be communication disconnects or fundamental cultural misunderstandings.

I can relate to many of these feelings, but by the end of the session I realized, I just need to get over these hangups and do the supportive thing anyway. I hope that with a genuine, authentic approach, I won't be seen as an intruder.

At the end of the session, everyone shared their personal "next step." These were everything from a structural change, like tweaking a program to be more inclusive to a person vowing to better educate herself on the issue. No matter how big or small, every step matters.

We can all help. We all have a voice.

Defining diversity: One repeated question was, how do we define diversity? It seems we can't measure, track or promote something if we don't understand it.

However, I don't know if we'll ever have one definition that fits all contexts. For example, simply being a woman doesn't make one diverse in the general population, but it does in a high-tech community.

One person I talked to noted that the entrepreneur community in Iowa may never perfectly match the state's demographics. Iowa has an aging population, but people who are nearing retirement may be less willing to take the financial risks of entrepreneurship.

What's a comfortable or desirable amount of diversity? Every person, group or community might have to figure out what works for them.

How can we help people take the first step? I really believe in the strength of our entrepreneurial community.

There are a ton of great organizations and entities - entrepreneurial education, support organizations, large businesses, growing startups, and yes, even a few venture capital funds. And, the combination of a small state (Iowa's population is just over three million) and that Iowa nice effect means, once you raise your hand, you never seem to be more than one or two introductions from the resources you need.

But, you do have to raise your hand. To take the first step. (More on this from Geoff Wood on the Welch Avenue blog.) How can we make sure people from all populations know that there is an entrepreneurial community here, and that they can take that first step?

Celebrate similarities: One Asian-American entrepreneur I spoke with wondered why diversity in entrepreneurship was even an issue.

He believes that all entrepreneurs naturally have something in common - the experience of relentlessly chasing their ideas.

That's something we can all support.

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