I’m proud to say that last month, Talis became officially certified by the Diversity VC Standard, a rigorous assessment and certification process that sets a benchmark for D&I in VC – verifying that we run best D&I practices as a fund.
The existence of a certification like the Diversity VC Standard is a major milestone for the venture capital industry. It’d be an understatement to say that this space, to date, has struggled to make significant progress from a diversity and inclusion perspective – in terms of both the people who funds hire, as well as founders that receive funding. To give you a quick flavour of the state of play over the past decade or so:
- In 2019, 2.8% of global funding went to female-led startups; in 2020, that fell to 2.3% (Crunchbase)
- Between 2009 and 2019 in the UK, 68% of funding went to all-male teams; 29% to mixed gender teams; 3% to all female-teams, and an average of 1.7% to all-ethnic teams. Under 1% of venture capital investment went to Black entrepreneurs (Extend Ventures)
- In 2019, women comprised 20% of investment roles in the UK (a 2% improvement since 2017); but more than 80% of firms reported that they have no women on their investment committees (Diversity VC)
- An ethnicity survey of 223 UK venture capitalists suggests that 24% of the venture workforce is non-white. Many of the firms surveyed are located in London, one of the most ethnically diverse regions, where over 40% of residents identify as Asian, Black, mixed race or Other ethnic group (Diversity VC).
While there’s been a lot of discussion around how we can improve industry-wide D&I, we believe that the first step is for funds is to take accountability. This starts with getting comfortable with the idea of hiring and investing in people with different mindsets, ideas, experiences and world views. Without doing this, we’re building an industry that is focused solely on one world view which could fail to include other perspectives, inadvertently reinforcing archaic stereotypes. We accept that as a VC, we have disproportionate power when it comes to effecting real change. And that’s why the launch of the Diversity VC Standard – and its incredible uptake over the past few months – is so meaningful.
At the time of our assessment, I believe there were c. 50 funds in Europe who had undergone the process. This goes to prove that while it may feel as though steps you take as a single fund won’t have a massive impact on the bigger picture – they absolutely will when we’re all working towards the same goal.
Much of our progress over the past couple of years has been off the back of Talis’ D&I working group: a group comprised of people from across the whole business, dedicated to ensuring that our practices are as inclusive as possible. The group’s work has seen us implement a number initiatives (many of which enabled us to achieve the Diversity VC Standard):
- We’ve committed to improving fund diversity, including undergoing unconscious bias training
- We’re improving the diversity of entrepreneurs that we meet through our Office Hours sessions, which are held specifically for certain underrepresented groups. The aim of these sessions is to level the playing field for underrepresented founders, and we hold these sessions in partnership with core D&I organisations like OneTech to directly support those groups
- We’ve published a cold-outreach form on our website for any founder to pitch their idea to us (we aim to respond or meet with every single founder who approaches us)
- We partner with LaunchIt, acting as mentors to help the next generation of young entrepreneurs launch and succeed in their business ventures
- We’ve published our D&I statement, include a zero-tolerance policy on our term sheets and we’ve joined industry movements like #MovingForward to promote inclusive and equitable startup fundraising
- We’ve partnered with FutureVC and 10,000 Black interns to provide opportunities to work at Talis for underrepresented groups; we’ve also implemented the job platform Applied to remove CVs in the application process for our open roles
- We revamped our paternity leave policies in 2020 to extend well beyond the statutory requirements for both prospective mothers and fathers
- ESG is central to our business operations, as well as our dealflow and portfolio management. We undergo pre-investment ESG due diligence which considers diversity and inclusion in factors such as checking cap tables to ensure equal and fair ownership among founders within companies we invest in. We then undergo a much deeper ESG diligence questionnaire at term sheet stage, and once we’ve invested we recommend every company undergoes our ESG workshop which highlights key areas for improvement, which may include setting a D&I policy or setting D&I targets at board level or for the whole employee base
- We’re going to publish our internal and portfolio D&I data as part of our annual ESG report, launching in 2021, to give us a clear indication of areas that we need to improve on as a fund.
With all that being said – the Standard is as much a certification as it is a starting point for Talis. While this certification that our current practices are best-in-class is fantastic, undergoing the assessment was an important process to understand where we can continue to improve – as well as to hold us accountable to the commitments that we’ve made.
Overwhelmingly, though, I’m incredibly proud to say that the Talis team is absolutely dedicated to its collective commitment to foster an environment where all differences between individuals are valued, our practices are equitable, and that we’re contributing to much-needed progress in the industry.