Expanding the Discussion on DEI Practices for ESOs
A reflection on the InBIA member huddle held December 16, 2022, with more than 30 participants
By Charles Ross, InBIA President & CEO
Recently, I was encouraged to expand my thinking on opportunities to increase diversity and advance inclusion in entrepreneur support organizations across the globe. I was preparing to participate on a discussion panel on the topic of Black entrepreneurship and was contemplating my answer to the following question: What is the opportunity to address economic justice through entrepreneurship?
I found this question challenging for several reasons. First, few discussions are more important than solutions to the economic inequality experienced in our communities across the globe. Most economies are complex and long-standing, so any efforts towards serious reform must involve a multitude of actors across many sectors, with varying perspectives shaped by both explicit and implicit factors. Additionally, most of InBIA’s work in this area (see InBIA’s playbooks) has specifically focused on practices for entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) and has historically centered on the pursuit of growth vs. justice. Lastly, and specifically related to the U.S., I believe constructive discussion may ultimately require a reexamination of several pillars of American society including the existence of a meritocracy, the concept of the self-made man, and the very notion of the “American Dream.”
So for the panel, my contribution was centered around the overall importance of the discussion and the opportunity for InBIA to expand both the narrative and the case for DEI practices among ESOs.
A few weeks later, InBIA expanded this discussion and posed the question of addressing economic justice to members during a community huddle. An InBIA community huddle is a virtual convening of member practitioners to exchange ideas and promising practices in entrepreneur support. Through these quarterly huddles, InBIA members have the opportunity to connect with other professionals, learn from each other, and gain insights on relevant and timely topics in entrepreneur support.
On December 6th, over 30 practitioners came together to discuss the opportunity to reframe our DEI discussions. Huddle participants were asked to imagine a community of ESOs implementing DEI practices in ways that achieve economic justice for entrepreneurs and their stakeholders and then to consider what that would look like and how they could implement something similar in their regions. Four small groups broke out to share experiences and brainstorm ideas based on the framing questions.
The full group reconvened to share discussion highlights, and many ideas emerged from lowering the risks associated with entrepreneurship to encouraging entrepreneurs to pursue business models capable of providing generational wealth. Ultimately, there were three main collective takeaways:
Top of mind
The discussion across the small groups was spirited and lively and clearly most of the participants had given serious thought to the opportunities from the framing questions. This topic is obviously very important and relevant to entrepreneur support professionals.
Shared vocabulary and metrics
Very early in the small group discussions, a few participants shared their trepidation in effectively exploring the framing question due to the differing perceptions that each participant brings to the discussion. Several participants mentioned the need for a shared vocabulary and metrics to discuss and measure the effectiveness of DEI practices in entrepreneur support and a few of the small groups spent time, early in their discussion, working towards a consensus definition of economic justice.
More work is needed
There was a general consensus that much of the DEI work currently practiced by ESOs is a precursor to additional efforts necessary to truly ensure economic justice for entrepreneurs in our communities. Several promising ideas were shared including:
- Exposing more people to entrepreneurship, especially students in K-12;
- Partnering with community stakeholders to improve outreach and improve DEI practices;
- Identifying and removing bias in processes and systems for helping entrepreneurs;
- Delivering entrepreneur support in ways that move beyond inclusion and towards true belonging; and
- Becoming more comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations.
In support of this needed work, InBIA will continue to provide the time and space to explore what’s possible. In February, we will reconvene this community huddle and we will explore in-depth this and other DEI topics during our upcoming annual conference, ICBI37, to be held in Detroit Michigan, April 23-26th. If you are doing promising work in this area, we welcome the opportunity to recognize your work through your application to be considered for our prestigious Julius Morgan Award for Diversity and Inclusion.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the huddle, we look forward to bringing your voice and perspectives to our discussion. Check out InBIA membership and consider registering for our conference in Detroit in April.
About InBIA: InBIA is a global nonprofit with over 1,200 members that lead entrepreneurship centers in 32 countries. For over 30 years, InBIA has provided industry best practices through education while enabling collaboration, mentorship, peer-based learning and the sharing of innovative ideas for entrepreneurs across the globe. InBIA is the premier organization for business incubators, accelerators, coworking spaces and other entrepreneurship centers.