It’s time for media to step up.
Matter has always set out to create a more informed, connected, and empowered society. We hope to invest in diverse teams, and teams supporting under-represented communities. When more of our communities are involved in building media platforms, and served by our media institutions, we create a stronger democracy.
Media is the connective tissue of society — and society is more polarized than ever before. If it is to live up to this role, it has to step up.
Media companies are leaving money on the table by not catering to diverse audiences that they don’t know how to reach. And investors are both leaving money on the table and damaging their portfolios by ignoring talented founders who happen to not be white or male.
The demographics must change.
The representation of people of color in newsrooms has stalled. In 2012, journalists from minority populations represented just 12% of the newsroom workforce. Women are underrepresented, too, and the majority of media is created in a handful of major cities.
Unfortunately, this mirrors systemic inequalities throughout society. In tech, startups owned by black women represented just 0.2% of venture deals between 2012 and 2014. This wasn’t due to poor performance: businesses run by black women generate more than $44 billion a year.
It’s also not a pipeline problem. Women are no less interested in tech. The first programmer, the inventor of the first source code compiler, and the author of the on-board software that ran the Apollo space program were all women. Yet 41% of women working in tech leave the industry prematurely.
This is catastrophic. As the internet becomes more embedded in everybody’s everyday lives, it’s not acceptable that the software that runs it is so disproportionately built by rich, white men.
It’s also not an easy problem to solve. Simply put, the internal cultures of most technology companies are toxic to women and people of color, and they’re leaving in droves. These platforms distribute our media, are how most people get their news, and inform how communities vote. Yet most of society isn’t involved in how they are made. Industry stories about short-sighted bigotry remain commonplace — and those same bigoted assumptions are making their way into the source code.
We can do so much better.
Project Diane, a report on the state of black women in tech entrepreneurship in the US, noted that:
The industry sees diversity and inclusion primarily as a human resource issue but not a market opportunity.
This is a shortsighted view. More than anything, we see this as a fundamental social problem. But it is, undeniably, also a market opportunity.
At a time when society is more polarized than ever before, trust in the media has sunk to an all-time low: just 32% of Americans say they have at least “a fair amount of trust”. Rebuilding that trust isn’t just good for democracy: it represents a market of hundreds of millions of people.
This trust gap could be because people don’t feel like the media is built for them. As Jennifer Brandel, CEO of Matter portfolio company Hearken, noted last year:
What would you call a system that works like this: a tiny group of people, who look a lot like each other and come from similar backgrounds, make vital decisions that affect a ton of people including you, your friends, your neighbors, everyone. But all of those decisions, by their design, happen behind closed doors. So you are left at the mercy of whatever they decide.
You probably would not call that system a democracy. What would you call this system instead? Authoritarianism? Maybe an aristocracy?
You could call it those things, or you could call it … a newsroom.
To bridge the empathy gap, build trust in media, and reach these audiences, media companies — including internet startups — must understand how to reach them. The best way to do that is for diverse communities to be represented in their teams.
What we’re doing at Matter
Since Matter. was founded in 2012, our stated mission has been to create “a more informed and connected society”. This year, we reworded that mission: “a more informed, inclusive and empathetic society”. Inclusion is core to a healthy democracy, and a healthy startup ecosystem. Of course, wording is just a superficial signal: we’re working hard to make inclusion a core piece of our DNA.
Our Director of Program in New York, Roxann Stafford, recently wrote about how we’re approaching this in our program and internal culture:
We want to talk about diversity and inclusion from the beginning with our entrepreneurs. This has to start before a crisis, because this is more than PR. It is about understanding the intrinsic value inclusion has for your company from the beginning. You know that a company really values and walks that talk of D&I if this is coming from the C Suite and isn’t isolated to HR or affinity groups. Everyone has a part to play, but as Nicole Sanchez, VP of Social Impact at GitHub recently shared, you can tell if it is sustainable and successful if the CEO is involved.
We’re proud that all of our cohorts except for the very first contain at least 50% women-founded companies. These amazing founders are the backbone of our community. But we know we can do so much better.
We craft each cohort with the overall class in mind, rather than simply investing in individual companies. To that end, we always ask ourselves if an incoming startup will collaborate well with the other startups in the community. But we’ve also started asking ourselves a new question: “Will this team bring a new perspective to our community?”
By looking for new perspectives and backgrounds rather than culture fit, we hope to ensure that the community becomes more diverse, rather than doubling down on our existing culture.
Time is of the essence.
Democracy itself is at stake. The divisions in our society are as broad as our lack of trust in news and reporting is deep. Rebuilding empathy, and trust in facts and storytelling, are the keys to a peaceful future.
We believe the seeds of the next great media institutions will be planted this year by courageous entrepreneurs who make the leap to build ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people.
This next generation of media institutions must represent the audiences they hope to reach — and the people who are affected by the governments we elect. For us, that means investing in more diverse founders. It means investing directly in startups that support more diverse communities. And it means helping each one of our startups build a culture of inclusivity.
Apply now. Applications close on April 3rd.
Matter is an SF & NYC-based startup accelerator and venture capital firm grounded in the principles of design thinking that supports early-stage media entrepreneurs and mission-aligned media institutions building scalable ventures that make society more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.
Our mission has never been more important than it is today. We are looking for scrappy entrepreneurs inspired to make real change. Our next cohort starts on June 5th. Apply now.
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