Data of the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 20% of businesses fail in their first two years and almost half of new businesses fail in their first five years. For business owners trying to grow and scale, there are significant obstacles that present considerable challenges. For non-white founders, there are additional hurdles, including greater difficulties with the securing of funding. Kristina Williams is the founder of Unpacking, an educational platform focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Williams shared a video on LinkedIn which receives a lot of attention. In the video, Williams discussed the funding disparities when it comes to white-run DCI companies. Williams sat down with Forbes to develop your thoughts, explain why this funding gap is a major problem and explore alternative methods to raise funds for a startup.
Janice Gassam Asare: So Kristina, you posted something that I found very poignant and relevant, which referred to an article that Forbes had published on the amount of funds received by whites for their DCI-related organizations. Can you tell us a little more about your particular feelings on this matter? Forbes room and why do you feel this way?
Kristina williams: Yes absolutely. When we look at exactly what the data shows us, we see that 93% of the fund owners and decision makers who receive the money from those funds are in the hands of white men. And we see this impact that receives the distribution of these funds. These are appalling rates like 2% of black founders receiving funds, 2% of founders receiving funds, 0.02% of black founders receiving funds.
And so, people in positions like me fall into these demographics … so the likelihood of receiving an investment to keep doing the job is not just important because of our passion, but important because of our personal relationship with her, is really disheartening because at the end of the day the work is done because of a radical ideal, a radical imagination for a more prosperous and more equitable future… if the work that is being done in this moment is not funded to be able to scale up or develop faster, that means the ability to create the future we all imagine is going to continue to take longer.
My personal response to this came from a frustration to see not only these people who look like the majority of fund owners, right like white males are now in a space of diversity saying they are the most qualified. or the most deserving of power to start a business like this. It’s kind of a slap in the face for the people who have made a personal impact because of their own experience of the disparities within this space.
In the same way: Absolutely… I can imagine how frustrating it is for you as a business owner trying to scale your own startup. Can you tell us a little more about your experiences trying to fundraise for your startup and what your startup is focusing on?
Williams: Absoutely. So I launched Unpacking in the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders last year in the summer of 2020. Unpacking is an online learning and certification platform for diversity, fairness and education. ‘inclusion. We’ve broken down what we mean by DCI by creating six core training modules ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ rights, gender rights, disability rights, sustainability, and product inclusion. Teams come to us to book a cohort training, which has up to 30 people each… if they have more than 30 people they want to train, they just continue to book additional cohorts and we go through a certification process. ‘one week. We do all of this in a week and it’s a combination of our proprietary e-learning platform and virtual workshops, where you have an expert moderator deepening the content with your entire team in collaboration with each other. others. . It’s really awesome because what we usually see in the online training space are these videos made where they’re like, “hey, go watch this video”. Now you are no longer a racist.
What I didn’t really expect, however, was the backend on the startup side of trying to raise funds and seeing that it wasn’t just nays that I would get from investors saying it there was no market for my business or that DEI was just an instant. It was not a mandate for the future. What I discovered was that I wasn’t just getting nays… I was also getting inappropriate innuendos, conversations, flirtations, people slipping into my DMs, people interrupting my speeches to ask if I ‘had a boyfriend, people who touched me inappropriately. And that’s not what I thought I was going to sign up for, especially doing the job I do and being as qualified as a person I am.
In the same way: First I want to say, I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences because I can only imagine how demoralizing and defeating experiences can be felt when you are just trying to raise money for your startup and that you end up having all kinds of … just different, negative experiences. You made a video about your feelings about the situation on LinkedIn. What was the reaction of a large part of your audience when you made this video? Were there a lot of people who agreed with you? Were there a lot of people who were confused and disagreed with you? How was your video received?
Williams: The majority of people have been completely engaged in a positive way. They celebrated the work that we are doing. They are excited to know more about Unpacking if they didn’t know our brand before… I had to create learning moments for people. I was able to bring them in and let them know the stats, let them know that because maybe they’ve had a good one-off experience with the company that doesn’t dismantle the systemic issues that we’re actually addressing in this conversation. And the systemic problem is that the disparities and the numbers, the data doesn’t lie about who gets this kind of funding, who is overlooked, who continues to be underestimated, and who claims to understand the situation because they already are. gone to jail, or because they have black nieces and nephews. It’s different. These interpersonal relationships or interpersonal experiences are not the same as a systemic problem. A one-off event can be an anomaly to an ongoing collective system of problems that is perpetuated in all institutions and that has an impact on society as a whole and not on an individual’s reality.
In the same way: I applaud you for speaking out and telling your truth because the same problem that occurs in the VC space, where black women face some of the most difficult obstacles and challenges in obtaining funding… I find that something a little similar has been unfolding in the DCI consultancy space where often the consultants led by white males are the ones who are able to partner with large companies and organizations. I think it’s based on the same idea that these are companies that people subconsciously trust automatically because they are run by white people and because they are founded by white people.
Williams: The numbers show how much of a gap there is between what representation looks like and what retention looks like when people don’t see themselves reflected. So, for example, 90% of HR departments are white, right? We find that 70% of the workforce does not really trust their HR teams. And so this leads to 84% of revenue being caused by DEI failure. So if you think about that relationship, there’s this component of people who don’t trust their HR department to report if something happens to them, so they leave. People quit their jobs without even having other jobs in sight. And it becomes a radical movement or an ingenious self-preservation movement for the well-being of the people. It becomes a health problem at the end of the day.
And when we think about the fact that by 2030, 70% of the workforce will be Gen Z and Millennials, there has never been a more important and urgent moment in history. than working with organizations now to create the systems and structures that can actually retain these top talent. Because if we know something about Gen Z or Millennials, they’re not going to budge when it comes to DCI values… so we have to do the job authentically and we have to do more than make public statements. There must be definitive action plans.
In the same way: Absoutely. What would you say to the black woman or founder who finds it really hard to fundraise for their startup, runs into a lot of walls where they don’t get funding and it’s hard for them to start their business? What advice would you give this person?
Williams: I believe that there are alternatives which are increasingly becoming an option for people. There is equity crowdfunding, which allows the general public to invest in and own your business and invest as little as $ 100 and build a community movement, rather than depending on a few. within these venture capital fund spaces. There are options like accelerators that we can apply to, like Founder Gym or Techstars, which are two accelerators that I have personally followed… Higher Ground Labs, which is another accelerator that I have followed. And there’s the support that comes from a community of mentors and a community that also provides smaller-scale financial investments to at least help you get a bit of a lead to get to your next step… there are sources. alternatives to what has traditionally been the essential way to build our businesses. We’ve seen amazing examples come out of Angela Benton’s Streamlytics and Dawn Dickson’s PopCom that have broken records for the crowdfunding that they’ve been able to raise and involve the community in owning their businesses.
And while there are other alternatives that are becoming more and more accessible in the market and people are innovating and creating their own tables and their own ways to grow their business from what was traditionally available, this doesn’t Still not necessarily take away the reality that there is an emotional ordeal that comes from being in this space. And be in the body of a black woman doing it. And that also brings me to say that having a community of peers living your shared experience is imperative for your own sanity and for you to be able to create a collective that makes you feel like you are not alone in this space… a group of people who let you know that everything is fine and that they really understand.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.