Our journey began two years ago with a pledge. It was the summer of 2020 and Norwest was compelled to do our part to confront racism in the United States. We pledged to take action, committing to educate ourselves, to have the hard conversations, and to increase diversity and inclusion within our firm, our portfolio, and the broader investment community. Within weeks, that commitment led to the formation of a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) working group for each of the firm’s three key areas of impact: investing, hiring, and Portfolio Services. Each group conducted extensive research and established measurable goals and timelines for creating change.
The pledge was just the first step in what we knew would be an ongoing journey, but we understood that we wouldn’t go it alone. We hired experienced guides to show us the way and invited like-minded partners and portfolio companies to come along.
As our pledge came shortly after Juneteenth, the June 19th holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the day has gained dual significance for our firm. First and foremost, it is a day to celebrate and reflect on this historic event in American history. It also serves as a familiar signpost on our DEI journey where we can pause to take stock of how far we’ve come and recommit ourselves to moving forward with renewed purpose.
This year, Norwest is again honoring Juneteenth with a paid holiday for employees, and as we did last year, we are sharing updates on our continued work and commitment to DEI.
DEI Progress in 2022
DEI is a principal theme in Norwest’s broader worldview. In the past year we published our worldview to articulate how values inform the investments we make and to showcase the work of DEI-focused portfolio companies including Clever Care and Supplier.io.
We also strengthened our commitment to DEI and ESG by bringing senior advisors Rachel Williams (DEI) and Shu Dar Yao (ESG) onto our advisory team. Rachel guides Norwest and our portfolio companies on strategies and best practices for building diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. Shu Dar does the same for strategic ESG initiatives, including climate change, social inequality, and related risks and opportunities.
Specific to our ongoing DEI initiatives, here are some updates from the three major working group areas:
- Hiring – internal firm hiring
- Wiring – investing in portfolio companies with diverse founders
- Portfolio Services – helping portfolio companies implement DEI initiatives
Diversity in Hiring
For internal hiring, we continue to pursue aggressive goals for diversifying our candidate pool by broadening the pools from which we source candidates. We continually track metrics that reflect our level of effort and our results in building a more diverse firm. We are committed to drawing, hiring, and retaining talent from traditionally underrepresented groups in both gender and race/ethnicity. Through these practices, we have been able to diversify our hiring with 32 percent of new Norwest joiners coming from groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in our industry.
Our Portfolio Services team also takes every opportunity to match talent from underrepresented groups to openings within our portfolio. Through Norwest intros, eight placements have come from these groups, representing 15 percent of total referrals.
Diversity in Investments
As investing is our most broad-reaching opportunity for making a difference, this is the area where we are most eager to make progress. Our investing team remains committed to providing diverse founders with opportunities to present to the partnership.
In the last year, the Norwest has invested in:
- Serena Ventures Fund I – a leader in backing diverse founders who are solving problems for diverse communities
- Chingona Ventures Fund II – the largest-ever fundraise by a sole Latina general partner
- A second fund with an extensive track record of backing strong companies with diverse founders, also co-founded by people of color (announcement coming soon)
- A Latinx founder-led technology company that makes an automated, low code tool for web developers (announcement coming soon)
We were particularly gratified to see the recent partnership between Serena Ventures and Brilliant Black Minds, an exceptional program created by our portfolio company Karat to prepare Black tech students for interviews.
We are proud of these investments and we know we have much more work to do to meet our commitment to investing in diverse founders, particularly funding more Black- and Latinx-founded companies.
Enabling DEI for Our Portfolio
Our Portfolio Services team continues to support our portfolio founders, CEOs, and their teams in building diverse, equitable, and inclusive companies. Strategies we have employed include:
- Launching Norwest Board Initiative to source Black and Latinx candidates for open board roles at portfolio companies
- Holding Board Open House events where we help portfolio companies widen their ecosystems for advisor and board talent by bringing their founders/CEOs and Black executive leaders together
- Sourcing and recruiting executives through direct outreach and strategic partnerships to expand hires from underrepresented groups
- Connecting Norwest companies, leadership teams, and HR leaders with each other and thought partners on DEI best practices
Here are a few highlights from the past year:
- Talent Principal Kris Snodgrass presented “Supporting Portfolio Companies to Build Diverse Boards” at the VC Platform Global Conference in April 2022. Kris shared our relationships with the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), Serena Ventures, and the Women on Boards (WOB) Project. Kris’ message encouraged teams to build overlapping networks with underrepresented leaders and prospective Board members where there was no prior connectivity.
- The firm introduced DEI Toolkit to portfolio CEOs at a hiring event in May 2022. The guide serves as an actionable starting point for start-ups to initiate diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging strategies.
- Senior Managing Partner Jeff Crowe hosted a fireside chat in May 2022 on DEI hiring best practices with Medallia executives Leslie Stretch and James White.
In the coming months, we will deliver further support by continuing to develop resources and scalable programs:
- Follow up the aforementioned DEI Toolkit release with an event and workshop series featuring industry leaders to help companies implement the recommendations and practices in the toolkit
- Provide access to interns, management programs, and other value add opportunities via partnerships/expanded networks
- Facilitate ongoing DEI education with quarterly virtual learning sessions and training programs
The DEI Journey Ahead
Although we’re at the two-year mark since we made our pledge, we realize that our journey is just beginning. There is much more work to be done. To fully realize a more inclusive, empathetic, and diverse future, we must continue to hold our firm accountable to our DEI goals, help our portfolio companies achieve theirs, and inspire the broader community to join us.