In This Issue:
Ain't I a Woman?
A Reflection on Feminism, Race, and Intersectionality
By Tanea Foglia, Director of Project W’s Tech Equity Hub
"O, ye fairer sisters, whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and muscles are never strained, go learn by experience! Had we had the opportunity that you have had, to improve our moral and mental faculties, what would have hindered our intellects from being as bright, and our manners from being as dignified as yours?" Maria Stewart, 1832
When I was 22 years old, I accepted a full-time job as an administrative assistant at my university's law school; I needed the tuition remission to complete my bachelor's degree. One of the professors I supported was verbally abusive, slammed things on my desk, and created a hostile environment. After one incident, my supervisor advised me to file an HR complaint, which I did. However, I was told nothing would happen. He was White. He was male. He was tenured. I was Black. I was female. I was staff. I decided that no amount of tuition support was worth the abuse and left later that year.
As Americans, our experiences are shaped by our social identities - race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, education, age, and so on. Historically, how these identities intersect either affords a certain amount of privilege for those who represent a combination of the "mythical norm" which as defined by Audre Lorde is, "white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure"; or have been used to marginalize, oppress and objectify those who do not meet that standard, such as Black women. This theory of intersectionality was formally introduced in 1989 but the concept is not new; free and enslaved Black women were talking about their unique burdens as far back as abolition.
Theoretically, social movements created to level the playing field for women and Black Americans in the workplace should have also benefited Black women. However, Black women have been conveniently "othered" when it suits the narrative. Historically, when it came to women's rights, Black women were Black rather than women. And when it came to civil rights, we were women rather than Black. There has been an inability—or unwillingness—to acknowledge that as Black women, we experience both racial and gender discrimination which presents a distinct set of barriers, particularly in the workplace. This is evidenced by the fact that, despite having the highest college enrollment and the highest percentage of post-secondary degrees of any race-gender group in the U.S.:
- Black women make 38% less than White men, and 21% less than White women per year regardless of education level.
- For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 58 Black women are promoted and for every 100 men hired into manager roles, only 64 Black women are hired.
- Black women hold only 1.6% of vice president positions and 1.4% of all C-Suite positions despite comprising 7.4% of the total U.S. population.
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?... Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman?...I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?" - Sojourner Truth, 1851
In the context of mainstream feminism, although the movement purports to speak for all women, the dialogue generally centers on the experiences of White middle- and upper-class women. This limited purview neglects to consider the additional challenges faced by those whose social identities reflect multiple marginalized groups. For example, when the feminist movement, so inspired by the Feminine Mystique, identified professional success and work outside the home as the rallying cry during the 1960s-1980s, it failed to recognize that since Emancipation, Black women had disproportionally high representation in the labor market due to: (1) post-slavery migration of unmarried Black women; (2) discriminatory practices against Black men necessitating the need for Black households to have two incomes; (3) a lack of Black family wealth; and (4) an expectation that Black women should work, unlike their White sisters. These jobs were often low wage, unskilled work, and were excluded from worker protections implemented as part of the New Deal. And as White women began entering the labor market in force in the 1970s to pursue professional careers, they perpetuated the cycle that kept Black women, like my grandmother, in domestic roles because someone had to perform the housework and childcare.
"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you." – Audre Lorde, 1981
How can contemporary feminists ensure that we all have the ability to achieve the same level of success as our White male counterparts?
- Acknowledge differences. As women, we have been either conditioned to pretend that differences among us do not exist or worse, taught to weaponize those differences. As Black women, we are taught to separate our blackness from our womanhood and deny how those traits inform our experiences. By failing to acknowledge that White women have inherent privilege not shared by Black women and ignoring the ongoing impact of structural racism, we are missing the opportunity to effect meaningful social change. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Will there be tears and hurt feelings? Absolutely. But, without honest discourse, equality will continue to evade us.
- Engage in genuine allyship. According to Lean In's The State of Black Women in Corporate America, while over 80 percent of White men and women see themselves as allies when it comes to supporting Black women in the workplace, Black women do not feel that allyship. As Black women, we are more than two times as likely compared to White women to experience microaggressions in the workplace such as having colleagues surprised by our capabilities, are generally less likely to feel supported by upper management, and five times more likely than White women to feel the burden of having our successes and failures reflect all Black women. We need to create a culture in which Black women feel heard and valued. When it is time to advance Black women, we need to end the common practice of diminishing their successes by rationalizing them as affirmative action, luck, or aggressiveness rather than an evolution of the accomplishments of the women who came before us.
- Lift as we climb. Finally, It is not enough to simply hire Black women. Rather, as feminists, we need to "lift as we climb" and ensure that we are providing the infrastructure to develop Black women leaders. Support includes judging professional Black women the same way we judge White men — on their potential rather than just on their past experience, provide professional development opportunities, and give access to mentors. The latter two may involve external resources but are attainable. We have to be willing to make the effort. Targeted mentorship and leadership programs, as well as programs like Project W's Tech Equity Hub are helping us get there.
Q&A with Stephanie Dorsey & Corey Jones
Stephanie Dorsey & Corey Jones, E²JDJ
Stephanie Dorsey and Corey Jones launched New Orleans-based VC firm E²JDJ to invest in founders creating novel technology platforms and products that address climate change, animal welfare, public health, and food security. Prior to launching E²JDJ, Stephanie was an attorney at a corporate law firm and Corey was a private equity investor at a growth equity investment firm. Both graduated from Harvard Law School and serve on a variety of boards of organizations, accelerators and incubators that are driving innovation in the food and broader entrepreneurial space. We asked Stephanie and Corey to share their thoughts on food innovation and technology, how they differentiate themselves from other VC firms, and why diversity and inclusion is so important to the startup ecosystem.
1. What inspired you to leave your respective careers and pivot to launching to a fund that focuses on innovation and sustainability in the food industry?
Stephanie: I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I've had a passion for food my entire life. I saw that there was tremendous white space around investing in and supporting food and agriculture companies. Yet, adoption of technology along the AgriFood value chain was occurring at an unprecedented pace, there was so much innovation in the space, and significant changes were happening in real time. So, I took time to formulate a thesis on where I saw the food and agriculture industry going and what role I wanted to have in the ecosystem. From my perspective, being a founder of an early-stage specialist venture capital firm encompassed the best of both worlds: I get the privilege of being an entrepreneur in the AgriFood space in one of the biggest investment frontiers—a multi-trillion dollar industry that impacts every human on the planet—and I also get the privilege of supporting founders who dare to think differently, push boundaries, do what's never been done, and nudge the world ahead using transformative solutions. Hence, E²JDJ was born, and it's been history ever since.
Corey: Before launching the firm, I was a growth equity investor and I have always had an interest in food and healthcare. I was an investment banker in the healthcare group prior to transitioning to private equity, and I've always been intellectually interested in how the power of food could be harnessed to solve societal problems. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I witnessed first-hand how impactful it was on not only my family, but my community as well. I have always believed that entrepreneurs were the backbones of communities, and personally wanted to find ways to drive entrepreneurship. I have also wanted to be an entrepreneur myself, and grew up in an environment that encouraged me to pursue entrepreneurship since I was a kid.
2. What are the biggest problems the food industry is facing and why do you think innovators are integral in helping us find solutions that transform and disrupt our currently broken system?
The food industry's challenges today are serious and wide-reaching, and as a general matter, there is no doubt that humanity is on a collision course with nature. The food production system is broken, with excessive loss, waste, and inefficiencies from seed to site. We ultimately need to make today's methods of food production cleaner, cruelty-free, less wasteful, and less environmentally damaging.
Beyond planetary health, the food system also negatively impacts human health—reforming food production could tackle the ill health suffered by 3 billion people, who either have too little to eat or are overweight or obese.
The good news is that a radical shift is certainly happening in the space as forces are rapidly converging to create healthy, sustainable, and compassionate solutions to help solve our current food, health, and environmental crises. Scientists, entrepreneurs, key stakeholders, and investors from various industries are collaborating to drive awareness, developing breakthrough technologies, accelerating the translation of technologies, and launching game changing companies that are redefining the ways in which we feed the world.
3. Can you tell us how advancements in food technology are reflective of consumer trends in the industry?
The food system is similar to the car industry in the 1900s. It lacks automation, digitization and data, which leads to deficiencies of quality, efficiency, safety, transparency, and accessibility, and ultimately the end customer suffers. Now new consumer preferences (i.e., the demand for personalized, on-demand products and greater food quality and increasing awareness for health, sustainability, and supply traceability) paired with the need to use our planet's resources more responsibility have pushed companies to innovate and focus on efficiency, efficacy, and quality. These forces have sparked a transformation across agriculture as growers and food companies strive to meet these heightened expectations while improving output. Today, fueled by the power of biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics and predictive insight computing, the major areas of innovation center around rerouting value chains, crop efficiency technology, alternative proteins, and controlled-environment agriculture.
4. In addition to providing capital, E²JDJ supports founders by facilitating connections to aligned and like-minded investors and business partners. Why do you think this hands-on approach is beneficial to a company's success?
At E²JDJ, we pour our time, energy, and network into supporting ventures as they scale and grow their businesses, particularly through connections to sales and distribution channels. At the early stages, those are the main pain points that entrepreneurs face. Startups need to ensure that they have correctly identified their customers, understand them well enough and can ultimately win them. To raise subsequent funding rounds, startups must also demonstrate early sales traction, among other things. We do as much as we can to facilitate the creation of revenue relationships for founders in an accelerated manner.
Even if the opportunity is not a fit specifically for E²JDJ, we always aim to connect entrepreneurs to resources in our ecosystem, whether it be advisers, mentors, investors, supporters, collaborators, strategic partners, or potential customers. We share a love for and commitment to the process of helping entrepreneurs who bring important companies into existence.
5. To build a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, more capital and support needs to go to companies led by women and underrepresented minorities. At the same time, there is also a huge void of diverse teams and perspectives at VC firms. Why do you think building a more inclusive and diverse startup ecosystem is so important, and how can we solve the problem?
Diversity is a competitive advantage—bringing different people to the table helps uncover blind spots, challenge assumptions and bring differing perspectives to bear. Also, more importantly, enabling diversity within an organization and ecosystem is the right thing to do! The problem can be solved by utilizing an inclusive approach and identifying and addressing biases.
Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp
Project W is now accepting applications for the seventh cohort of its Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp (WEB). Our signature accelerator program, WEB is designed to help female founders scale from seed to Series A readiness.
Since its inception in 2016, WEB has a demonstrated track record of moving the needle for female founders. WEB alumnae have raised a total of over $67M in institutional capital with six of the 93 female founders who have graduated the accelerator having gone on to raise a Series A round.
Part of Project W's mission is to specifically support underrepresented female founders. We're proud that almost half of the founders who have participated in WEB over the years are diverse.
The results we have seen after having graduated our past six cohorts are in large part a testament to a curated and focused curriculum supported by investors and industry experts from across the country. Christine Rene, WEB '18 alumna, gave her feedback on the program, explaining, "With so many entrepreneurial coaching and educational initiatives available, the creators of WEB have created their program by truly thinking of the entrepreneur first." WEB's week-long, virtual programming, aims to provide high-potential founders with the opportunity to:
- Learn from industry experts about marketing, operations, and strategies to grow your business.
- Present your company to experienced investors for feedback on your business model, advice on your go-to-market strategy, and insight into the key metrics investors in your sector consider.
- Discover ways to identify and disrupt implicit bias in the VC pitch process in a master class conducted by Dr. Dana Kanze.
- Meet and get to know a select group of amazing female founders from around the world.
WEB is currently recruiting for applicants and is looking for female founders of companies that have:
- At least one female founder
- A full-time team of two or more
- Raised a seed round (or achieved equivalent traction) with potential to scale to Series A
- Monthly recurring revenue
- A technology solution to address a big problem or pain point
Interested female founders who meet the criteria above can check out our website here to learn more about WEB and apply to join our seventh cohort.