Diversity

Founders Factory Diversity Commitments

Diversity

Founders Factory Diversity Commitments

Words Henry Lane Fox

December 1st 2020 / 10 min read

"Entrepreneurs come from everywhere. Any background, geography, ethnicity, upbringing, or belief system. They are challenging the status quo to solve our world’s biggest problems.

Over the past few months, we have formalised a set of Diversity Commitments to hold us accountable to this view, building on the work we’ve been doing over the last few years.

The aim of sharing our journey publicly is to show how our efforts in London have positively impacted our team, and above all to share our process in the hope that those reading it find it helpful when looking to build their own commitments for different organisations.

We began to take affirmative action in 2019 by putting an increased focus on gender diversity, which we chose as our first pillar because it would affect the greatest number of people. After a successful year of action, including a 52.6% increase in female representation in the FF operations team, we collectively chose to focus on a commitment to ethnic diversity, with a particular focus on supporting the vastly underrepresented Black community.

These commitments impact how and who we hire, what investments we make, and how we strive to positively impact the technology and investment community at large. The whole operations team in London has been instrumental in helping to develop the following commitments. Importantly we have also recognised that we cannot act alone and have been fortunate to be able to partner with YSYS, Inclusive Boards for unconscious bias training, Tech Nation, and 10x10 for black founders office hours.

Below, we’re sharing with you where we’ve come from, where we hope to go and most importantly, the actions we’re taking to get us there."

- Henry Lane Fox, Co-Founder and CEO, Founders Factory

10 commitments from Founders Factory

  1. We commit to proactively recruit employees and entrepreneurs in residence that are representative of race and gender, including sharing our job descriptions with a diverse range of job boards, recruitment companies etc.

  2. We commit to proactively investing in female founders and racially diverse founders

  3. We commit to offering all female founders and racially diverse founders the opportunity to attend bespoke office hours across idea development, pitch practice and expert advice should they want it

  4. We commit to having an equalities statement as part of our application process and make explicit from the beginning that we ensure equality of opportunity for all and will never discriminate based on gender or ethnicity

  5. We commit to using language in our job descriptions and recruitment processes that aim to recruit diverse candidates, and to test and learn language if we are not attracting a diverse pool of applicants

  6. We commit to hold ourselves to our company wide Code of Conduct to maintain an inclusive culture and we commit to promote and share our Code of Conduct with any early stage tech companies, so they can implement a CoC hassle free

  7. We commit to our events having speakers that are representative of race and gender and commit to engage in equality campaigns throughout the year - through events and our online presence

  8. We commit to improve access to the tech industry by prioritising internships for less privileged and diverse candidates, and by paying the London living wage

  9. We commit to mandating unconscious bias training for the full operations team

  10. We commit to investing in a fund for black founders and encourage others to co-invest

What actions have we taken?

We knew that the first step towards increasing the diversity of our teams was to elevate diversity to the same level as any other of our essential business KPIs. And that meant taking a far more strategic and data-driven approach.

We knew that we needed a formal group that would drive these commitments forward.

  • We set up the Founders Factory diversity committee (DC) a five-strong group consisting of a selection of leadership team and a rotating member of the broader team - everyone has the opportunity to be a part of the DC which meets quarterly, with all sessions recorded, to hold ourselves to account on our commitments.

    • Crucially, it has the highest level of buy-in, chaired by FF CEO Henry Lane Fox, as well as budget behind it.

    • DC is the formal steering group, but the whole company is involved in the development and execution of the commitments.

  • We have taken affirmative action towards our hiring. Our main aim is to take affirmative action to ensure equality of opportunity for all. By equality of opportunity, we mean that we will ensure there is full representation of diverse candidates, through the pipeline and at the final stage.

    • If there is not equality of opportunity, we will take active steps to make sure that there is. We created red flags which signal when there is not equality of opportunity (i.e. not enough diverse candidates in the pipeline) and a number of affirmative actions we can take to redress the balance (see more below on our gender, Black, and BAME diversity actions).

  • We are recording our data and report on it quarterly. Whilst we are now officially tracking our team’s make up, we continue to expand on the data points we collect.


Each quarter, we report on our data: who we’ve invested in and who we’ve hired. This is reviewed and any issues identified are escalated for action among the wider team.

  • We have allocated a budget to implementing our commitments so we put our money where our mouth is. This means the team has access to resources to execute our commitments such as investing in relevant diversity funds and initiatives, and hosting events.

Gender actions

In 2019, we decided as a team to focus on improving the gender split of our operations and startup founder teams. Here is a recap of our activity to date which remains ongoing, alongside our new diversity commitments:

  • We created a Founders Factory-wide women’s committee, connecting the network of women across teams to share learning through workshops and events.

We launched the FF Women’s Network: A network that supports, empowers and inspires women in the Founders Family, to provide opportunities to women to build their support network, share experiences, gain new perspectives and accelerate their careers through active learning. Since June 2019 we’ve hosted a range of breakfasts, lunches, workshops, panels, socials and careers fairs. Highlights include a workshop on ‘Silencing Imposter Syndrome and Learning To Fake It Till You Make It', a breakfast focused on company culture, where the conversation and ideas fed directly into the Code of Conduct that we were working on and an workshop of Negotiating Promotions and Pay Rises. We opened up the Women’s Network to all the companies in the portfolio at an event on wellness and mental health in the workplace, and hosted our first (of many) virtual event at the start of lockdown to catch up and share tips and tricks for working from home and work/life balance. The Women’s Network has been a fantastic opportunity to meet different colleagues across the Founders Family and discuss the positive changes we can make personally, and as a group of companies to support and empower women.

- Selina Parmer, Head of Talent

  • We commit to 50:50 gender representation at the final stage of meeting the investment committee - at least one final stage business will have a woman in the founding team

  • We will always choose the more diverse option if there are two equal businesses or candidates at these final stages

  • We actively manage the language of our job descriptions and in the recruitment process to ensure neutrality and avoid bias when recruiting to attract a diverse pool of candidates - you won’t ever find us looking for “ninja” developers (see more below on how we do this)

  • We must have 50:50 gender representation on panels of any event we host or it will not go ahead. And external events we attend must have this too, or we will not take part

  • We offer female founder office hours which are designed to help level the playing field. Any entrepreneur outside of the Founders Factory portfolio can get dedicated time with the investment team, senior management, talent and others from Founders Factory for advice, feedback and one-to-one discussion

  • Every single startup at Founders Factory with a gender diverse co-founding team will be offered pitch training to ensure equality of knowledge and experience and reduce bias ahead of any pitch day

In 2020, our agreed focus has been on supporting Black founders and prioritising fair representation from all minority ethnic backgrounds:

Supporting Black Founders

Prioritising fair representation from all minority ethnic backgrounds
  • We promise fair ethnic minority representation of 35%* at the final stage of hiring and will take affirmative action if there’s not - at least one final candidate will be from an ethnic minoirty

  • We promise fair ethnic minority representation of 35%* at the final stage of meeting the investment committee and if there’s not we will take affirmative action - at least one final stage business will have a person of colour in the founding team

  • We will always pick the candidate or founder from an underrepresented ethnic group if there are two equal businesses or candidates at these final stages

  • We actively manage the language of our job descriptions and in the recruitment process to ensure neutrality and avoid bias when recruiting to attract a diverse pool of candidates (you won’t ever find us looking for “ninja” developers, for instance)

  • We will always endeavor to have a minimum 35% BAME panelist representation at any event we host. And external events we attend must have this too

* According to Diversity VC, UK BAME representation is 14% (specifically 3% Black in UK population) but we don’t think it’s good enough to aim for 14%, that’s why 35% is our trigger point for taking affirmative action.

What results have we seen so far?

2020 Snapshot:

How does this compare? According to research from Diversity VC, women represent 27% of people working in venture capital in the UK, on average, and in senior leadership roles, it’s 13%.

We also want to share that, when it comes to our startups, in 2020, in total, one third of our studio businesses (the startups we build from scratch) have female CEOs.

As of end of Q3 2020 we can report the following progress:
  • A 52.6% increase in female representation in the FF operations team since we started to track this data in 2018

  • A 113% increase in female representation in FF leadership since we started to track this data in 2018

  • So far this year, 55% of the CEOs we have hired for our studio startups, are women, up from 36% last year

  • Now 15 people who self report as BAME in the operations team, representing 27% of the business

  • An average of 29.4% of businesses that get to the investment committee have BAME representation

What next?

This is just the start of our commitment to creating a fairer, and more inclusive business and wider technology ecosystem. In spite of being ahead of the industry-wide norm, we don’t believe that’s good enough. We want to - and know we can - do better. And that goes for our Founders Factory team, our portfolio companies and beyond.

  • We want to continue learning and improving and welcome suggestions and partnerships to help make that happen.

  • With our new increased focus on supporting the Black community, we are hoping to increase the representation of Black people within our organisation and the businesses we invest in.

  • We have launched a campaign in partnership with startup community YSYS called #KnowYourData, designed to help startups take their first steps in collecting and sharing data on diversity. We encourage everyone to join this movement.

  • We will keep everyone updated on our progress, initiatives and more in our newsletter - sign up here.

  • If you would like to know more and have suggestions to share with us, please email our Head of Talent, Selina Parmar on selina@foundersfactory.co.

* See box out below

How we manage language in job ads to avoid bias - and you can too

Academic research suggests that language in job adverts can sustain and perpetuate existing gender inequalities. The online gender decoder is a tool created by Kat Maxtfield which can be used to identify text in job adverts that is gendered - either towards men or women. As Matfield points out as an example of gender bias in language, words like bossy and feisty are not ones associated with men. There’s also a tool created by Texio which analyses tone and offers a colour coded system revealing hidden biases and flags certain words and offers alternatives. We use these tools to ensure the language we use in job ads is neutral, for FF operations team hires and to help our startups when they’re hiring too.

- Selina Parmar, Head of Talent

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