On September 30th, ASBA (Arizona Small Business Association) is holding an event entitled Arizona Speaks, discussing utilizing equity crowdfunding to raise capital and cyber security.
Last week someone forwarded me this email.
Unfortunately these emails are too common. In Phoenix, many of our entrepreneurial events suffer from a lack of diversity, because I work with women business owners and I am an advocate for entrepreneurial diversity, people often reach out to me. However, with the title of “AZ Speaks” and the subject matter of crowdfunding, this one really stood out to me. The photos of the speakers displayed in row sent a clear message everyone on this panel is male, white and for the most part, of a similar age group.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 30% of Arizona is Hispanic and growing rapidly. Over 50% of our population is women and women of color represent the fastest growing entrepreneurial population in the country. We are a diverse state. To title a business panel of all white males with similar age and professional backgrounds as, “AZ Speaks” is inaccurate at best.
There is a certain level of irony involved in the panel’s topic matter as well. Crowdfunding was developed as an alternative for people who lacked access to capital by traditional means. A lack of diversity in traditional funding strategies is a key contributor to the crippling disparity in funding which continues to limit the growth of our entrepreneurial and innovation communities. It is one of the reason women are flocking to crowdfunding platforms. According the National Women’s Business Council, “Rewards-based crowdfunding platforms are giving women unprecedented access to capital. Indiegogo has reported that 42.0% of its crowdfunding campaigns are run by women and women raise more funds than men both in terms of the number of contributions and amount of money.” Plum Alley is just one example of a crowdfunding platforms built specifically to serve women-led ventures in response to the emerging data regarding the capital gap. There is also evidence that women-led firms perform better on crowdfunding platforms than our male counter parts. Yet the panel that was put together to educate our community on crowdfunding doesn’t contain a single woman.
As I said before, these emails are not uncommon but the title and the topic make this event a vivid example of an opportunity in our ecosystem. However, the reality is it isn’t my soapbox that will stop me from attending. I want to take this example to talk about why as an entrepreneur and as a woman, I will not be attending this event and events like it in the future.
1.) The information discussed by this panel will require additional work to be effective for me.
Not because I won’t be running a crowdfunding campaign in the near future. In fact I am looking to execute a crowdfunding campaign in the next year and I have several clients who are looking to use the tool as well. I am a woman and a small business owner as are many of my clients. The experience of these panelists is different from those experiences.
Research has proven that my crowdfunding campaign will be heard and seen differently from my male counterparts. To be effective, I need to incorporate this unconscious bias into my strategy, which means I will have to do more work to take the information I hear and determine how it is applicable.
The facts and data that these panelists will be sharing are relevant which brings me to my second point.
2.) I can hear facts and data online, I go to events to hear local experiences which maybe similar to mine and will aid me in effectively utilizing crowdfunding in the future.
If I wanted to hear the information shared by experts on crowdfunding in general, I could get them through other mediums. As a business owner, community advocate, and a mom, I have very little time. I try and make my in person events specific to information that is locally-based and specific experiences that I could not get through other mediums. Most of the time that is specific to people who have actually executed crowdfunding campaigns in a similar environment.
It’s not surprising to me that increasingly organizations and partners I speak with tell me they have a hard time filling seats at events. Until local organizations realize that the marketplace has shifted and information is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week online and adjust their strategy, I have to be more discerning about the events that I attend.
3.) A lack of diversity at events has a direct impact on my business’ bottom line.
Again research study after research study continues to show that diversity has a direct impact on a businesses bottom line. As a native Phoenician I remember 2008 and watching people lose their houses because our economy lacked diversity and strategy.
Other major cities have made diversity in business a priority. While here, our demographics support diversity as a strength, we have yet to truly leverage this opportunity.
In the 2016, the American Express Open report on the State of Women Owned Businesses highlighted growth data from several metro areas. Despite the fact that less than 4 years ago Phoenix ranked at the top of metro-areas for female entrepreneurs, our unwillingness to leverage diverse populations of entrepreneurs has directly affected our ability to grow this powerful demographic. While other cities have put together comprehensive economic development strategies to leverage the rapid growth of women owned businesses, Phoenix has not and as a result we have lost the opportunity to create 1,000’s of quality jobs.
Until statistics like this change, we need to question and think about the way that we do business in Phoenix. I support our local ecosystem. I want to attend events and support my fellow entrepreneurs and community partners but the reality is that my support of my ecosystem is enabling the status quo.
For the last five years I’ve served on the National Association of Women Business Owners board, both locally and nationally. Whenever I see an event like this I often send off a letter or an email asking the organizers to think about diversity and encouraging them to contact me if they need additional support in finding diverse speakers.
So, those are the reasons I am not attending the AZ Speaks event and my email listserve will not promote it either. Previously, I thought it was important for me to attend these events so I could still speak and participate and be part of the conversation. But I have sat in enough of these events, sitting next to people who I much rather be hearing their opinion, but instead I hear the same platitudes being spoken from the stage about what other people are doing. Most of the time it made me angry but mainly it was a waste of my time.
I won’t be supporting events nor doing marketing for events that lack diversity and I will not be personally attending them.
As an ecosystem, it’s time for us to start thinking strategically about our future, the way we spend or time, and our money and the QUALITY of information we are missing because of the lack of diversity. If nature as taught us anything, diversity is a good thing. Diversity is not just a social nicety, it is an economic imperative.
I courage you to think and ask yourself the same questions. Your time, your support, your money as a business owner is powerful. Use it wisely.