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On Tuesday, June 30 Axios hosted a conversation on the impact of Black Americans' underrepresentation in venture capital with Axios business editor Dan Primack and chief technology correspondent Ina Fried featuring Precursor Ventures Managing Partner Charles Hudson, Cleo Capital Managing Director Sarah Kunst and Bessemer Venture Partners' Partner Elliott Robinson.

Sarah Kunst discussed the importance of having racial and ethnic diversity at the decision-making level in venture capital firms and how that drives financial returns.

  • On underrepresentation for Black people in venture capital: "Obviously the funds haven't done a good job hiring diverse candidates even though they're there...Venture just hasn't made that leap to make it a priority in recruiting...It's easy to hire what we know."
  • On how racial and ethnic diversity drive diverse opinions and insights that yield better results: "You're more likely to spot ideas that aren't going to work, and more likely to spot ideas that will work but aren't exactly in your wheelhouse."

Bessemer Venture Partners' Partner Elliott Robinson highlighted title inflation and how it allows firms to appear diverse without giving people real power.

  • On what he calls "diversity theater": "I've lived it...for both black and brown investors as well as female investors. We'll give you an 'investing role' but we won't let you touch things like carry real check writing, sitting on boards, and the like."

Precursor Ventures Managing Partner Charles Hudson discussed what is critical in making systemic change in the industry.

  • On what a lack of diversity signals to potential partners: "When you look at a firm's web page or you look at an industry where you see almost no one who looks like me, I think it can send a pretty strong signal to founders that perhaps I'm not welcome here."
  • On what needs to change in venture capital: "We're an industry that really only hires people from a very narrow set of backgrounds — whether it's academic or professional...As long as we're focused on what's perceived to be low-risk pedigree hiring, we're not going to change anything."

Thank you Cooley LLP for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 6, 2020 - Technology

Labor Department probes Microsoft's diversity policy

Photo: Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Labor Department has been probing whether Microsoft's goal of increasing Black representation in its ranks constitutes racial discrimination, the software maker disclosed Tuesday. In a blog post, Microsoft says it believes it is complying with all applicable laws.

Why it matters: The Labor Department move comes as the Trump administration is also trying to use an executive order to block government contractors from offering certain types of diversity training.

Why migrants are fleeing their homes for the U.S.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios Photo: Herika Martinez /Getty Images 

Natural disasters in Central America, economic devastation, gang wars, political oppression, and a new administration are all driving the sharp rise in U.S.-Mexico border crossings — a budding crisis for President Biden.

Why it matters: Migration flows are complex and quickly politicized. Biden's policies are likely sending signals that are encouraging the surge — but that's only a small reason it's happening.

Cities' pandemic struggle to balance homelessness and public safety

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Addressing homelessness has taken on new urgency in cities across the country over the past year, as officials grapple with a growing unhoused population and the need to preserve public safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: It’s led to tension when cities move in to clear encampments — often for health and safety reasons — causing some to rethink the role of law enforcement when interacting with people experiencing homelessness.