UPDATED 12:00 EDT / OCTOBER 12 2016


Laying the groundwork for diversity, one entrepreneur at a time | #WomenInTech

Building companies that are diverse and inclusive is good for business. One woman is on a mission to change the mindset of the leaders of today and tomorrow. As the professor of classes called “Entrepreneurship From Diverse Perspectives and Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations,” Fern Mandelbaum, partner and co-founder of Vista Venture Partners, believes both men and women must be part of the conversation at all levels.

After conducting a panel at Stanford University’s “Future of Innovation: A Peek Inside Stanford GSB’s Crystal Ball,” Mandelbaum met up with Jeff Frick, host of theCUBE, from the SiliconANGLE Media team, to talk about her role in helping organizations not only attract highly talented minorities but retain them.

This week, theCUBE spotlights Fern Mandelbaum in our Women in Tech feature.

Inclusion really does mean everyone

Frick began the interview inquiring about the progress of her cause and talked about the Anita Borg Institute scoring sheet, which measures and provides a baseline for companies to see how they are doing in their hiring practices. Mandelbaum explained how everyone must be part of the conversation.

“I think we are making progress. I think the fact that there is so much focus right now on diversity and particularly inclusion; you will see change. It doesn’t happen quickly. We have to build awareness and that’ s what companies are really doing … people are really committing to this and taking action,” she said.

“If you even think about Anita Borg and the conference [Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing], it was 400, then 800, then 1,600, [now] they are at capacity. There are so many fabulous women that are going to that, but if you noticed last year how many men were there; this is a conversation that is not just amongst women. And that’s what needed to happen. We need to speak about diversity, all aspects of diversity, and have everyone in the conversation,” Mandelbaum continued.

She added: “It is so critical — mentoring, sponsors, advocates need to be women and men … we all need to understand that we can learn from each other. This conversation about diversity and inclusion needs to be amongst LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning], African-Americans, Latinas, women, men … everyone needs to be a part of this.”

The blind spots

Saying that we all inherently have biases, Frick noted that the key is not to admonish bias; it’s to try to recognize, change and work through the bias. He asked about the about the three ‘A’s: action, awareness and accountability. Mandelbaum believes it is the awareness of your biases that create change.

“I think the term ‘unconscious bias’ sounds like a disease, and I prefer the term ‘blind spots’. It’s not a disease; we all have it. It’s neurological. It’s built in. It helps us. It’s a defense mechanism in some ways. The more we’re aware of what we do and how it affects other people, the more we can change,” she explained.

“I think of them as acts of inclusion. It can be something as simple as mentoring someone different from yourself. In a meeting making sure everyone speaks about an important issue. Taking turns planning the group outing. I hear all the time in companies that we always go out and do X and not everyone feels included,” Mandelbaum stated.

She continued: “Larger acts of inclusion are things like committing to interviewing two minorities, whatever that minority may be. If it’s a group of women primarily on a team, be committed to hiring men. If it’s mostly Asian men, talk to Polynesian women. Whatever it is, you are committed to finding the best people you can, but [with] different perspectives.”

Better business outcomes

Frick referred to the point that diversity of opinions and problem solving generates better outcomes. Mandelbaum explained that she takes a robust approach to help businesses realize why diversity is very good for business.

“I work with a lot of companies on this, and unless I talk to the CEO or the partner in charge of a venture fund and they tell me that they are committed to this because it will make their business better, I’m not going to work with them,” Mandelbaum said. “To just do it because you should do it, that will not create change. There are business reasons to do it. Will it also feel better? Will you create an inclusive culture? Will people be happier? I absolutely believe so, but the reason to do it is it’s good for business.”

She continued: “So some people believe it. Those who talk to me believe it. When I go into a company, I don’t want people to just see me and high five. As a matter of fact, often people really don’t like me because I’m bringing up some difficult topics. My goal is for them to talk about it and to have this be part of the conversation, not to be a taboo topic. This is a good thing. How do we hire people? Who do we want as part of our company? We are building for the future. Not everyone agrees, but you know what? If we change one by one and two by two, four by four, you will see more and more change.”

Watch the video below to hear Mandelbaum’s approach to leading diversity, as well as her methodology for teaching college students to understand the importance of creating diverse workplaces. And be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the Future of Innovation: A Peek Inside Stanford GSB’s Crystal Ball event.

Photo by SiliconANGLE

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