The ‘pipeline problem’ is really a network problem—and 2 organizations want to fix it

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Kamala Harris rules the headlines, a Princess Di musical is headed to Netflix, and new networks aim to take the excuses out of diversifying corporate America. Have a relaxing weekend.

Today’s essay comes to us from Fortune Senior Writer Michal Lev-Ram:

Look harder. My kids do this really annoying thing where they open the refrigerator, stare at the space right in front of their eyes and yell, “Mommy, I can’t find the orange juice!”

“Look harder!” I usually yell back.

Indeed, the orange juice is almost always there. And yet, they’ve clung on to this faulty and absurd line of reasoning: If it’s not right in front of my eyes, it’s not there.

Object permanence, or the understanding that things exist even when we don’t see them, happens to be an important developmental milestone for babies (and yes, my children should have mastered this by now). But even some adults have struggled with this breakthrough, as it turns out.

Remember back in 2015, when Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz said his Silicon Valley firm didn’t employ more women because qualified female investing partners were hard to find? Well, it turns out there are qualified female investing partners out there, because Sequoia (and many other venture capital firms) have since hired some. To be sure, the so-called pipeline problem is not a complete work of fiction. But the barrier to better representation of women and people of color in the business world has long been more of a network problem.

“People used to go to their networks to find candidates for speakers, board seats, and executive positions,” says Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of theBoardlist, a platform that connects companies with potential female directors. “They didn’t consciously realize that these networks were homogenous.”

Earlier this week, theBoardlist announced that it would add men of color to its service, an effort to increase not just gender but racial diversity on corporate boards. (Women of color already made up 20% of theBoardlist’s database.) The move came after several months of Singh Cassidy’s inbox getting flooded with emails asking, “Sukhinder, do you know someone?”

All Raise, another organization that aims to advance women in tech and investing, is also trying make it easier to find diverse candidates—in this case, for speaking opportunities. Its upcoming speakers bureau will be made up of female founders, funders, and startup operators interested in more exposure at events.

At their core, databases like theBoardlist and All Raise’s speakers bureau eliminate the network problem at scale. Sending one-off “Do you know someone?” emails is great but inefficient—not to mention, it often puts the onus of finding that someone on those who are underrepresented. These easy-to-search, ready-to-use networks are growing, as are funds that invest in underrepresented founders, and resources for diversifying networks in so many different ways (check out this list of Black economists). In other words: There is no longer any excuse for not finding the orange juice. It was there all along, right behind mommy’s bottle of rosé. Don’t judge, there’s a pandemic going on.

Michal Lev-Ram
[email protected]

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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