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In the world of startups, media coverage tends to focus on founders who are white and often men. This often marginalizes the stories of non-traditional founders. Often times, when there is news involving a founder who is nothing more than a white man, their stories are moved to the "women" or "diversity" section because they are not treated like legitimate business stories.
The pandemic, the fight for racial equality and other world events underscore the need for representation in all aspects of business and the need for fair reporting. When we look at founders receiving media, it is easy to see that white founders are less scrutinized when they make mistakes, while color founders are crucified for normal fiddling. The few color founders who receive coverage are propped up and held to an untenable standard, and if they slip they are mercilessly demolished.
Related: 5 Ways To Get Media Coverage As A Startup
For example, Quibi, the video streaming app that grossed $ 1.75 billion, was merged in 2020, led by founder Jeffery Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman. Much of the coverage of the company's demise sought to excuse its utter failure, blaming the pandemic for its poor performance and inability to meet its goals. Somehow the founder and CEO were exempt from the exam when in reality they did not accurately assess the profitability of the company and failed to steer or steer successful results. Executives have been excused by the breakneck coverage many color founders get when they see a public misstep.
It should be equitable how people are treated in the same publication. The facts are that these two people wasted millions of dollars and faced a minor blow. If the roles had been reversed and the people piloting the ship were a minority, they would have been torn to pieces by the press. The truth is they couldn't have been given more than $ 1 billion to start the company, but with the unlikely chance they had, if they failed so amazingly, they'd never work again.
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Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton has written a number of articles about her successes and failures over the past few years. Arlan founded her company in 2015 and her story of moving from a homeless entrepreneur to a successful venture fund caught attention in late 2016. The first articles that focused on her as a black LGBTQ founder were often written by the diversity reporter for The Publication. Where else would it go? As a minority, their story could only be written by a reporter who treats VC investments by / for people with color as novelty – not the norm.
That's the problem. Instead of seeing a founder as an innovator, the whole thing is minimized and reduced to nothing more than a minority story. It's more about raising awareness of a story than recognizing successes. When Arlan encountered bumps, it was easy to oversimplify her experience and imply that she had only invested because of her diversity and investor thirst for it. White colleagues who fail traditionally do not receive the same level of attack on their skills and recover quickly.
If you need another notable example, Elon Musk was on "The Joe Rogan Experience" and was filmed smoking marijuana. He has since said the move was "not wise". But the fact that he was able to breathe in without fear of the effects is a blatant token of privilege. Thousands of people of color are sent to jail for possession of marijuana.
A founder of color would surely have faced the wrath of the media. Elon didn't. While marijuana smoking is legal in California, the problem here isn't the act itself, but the double standards for minority and white founders. Had it not been for a white man, fitness issues and even the dismissal of a CEO would have hit the headlines and started conversations between board members. People with color have always been and always are held to higher (if not impossible) standards.
Related: Why the World Needs More Entrepreneurial Women in Leadership Positions
During a public relations campaign in 2019, I worked to announce a $ 27 million donation and began introducing the story to national reporters. After initial contact, no one would conduct an interview, although that was a significant increase for the room. I had seen white founders covered for small raises of $ 1 million to $ 5 million. Part of the appeal to this story was that it was one of the biggest raises from a Latina CEO. Still, nobody would agree to an interview.
Strategically, my team wondered if we would remove all gender pronouns from the field. Would it gain traction? We tried it. It did. After reporters agreed to have more information about the announcement, we were able to reintroduce those pronouns and tell the bigger story. The victory of getting in the door was short-lived, however, as we were then pushed back into the diversity or women of publication areas. This was a legitimate business story with real business implications. But because the founder was a woman of color, they wouldn't treat it as such. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for color founders.
Recognizing bias and inherent prejudice is important and has only been highlighted by coverage of recent racist tensions. It is important to hold reporters accountable in order to create a representative press and a just society. I wrote this article not to beat up or punish anyone, but rather to raise awareness that this is happening and that it shouldn't be. Only when this problematic behavior is brought to light can things actually change.