Just over a year ago, tens of millions of people in an estimated 60 countries protested for racial equity in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody. Reactions ranged from resigned anger — but not surprise — at yet another Black American’s death just weeks after Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor; to shock and outrage. In many workplaces and institutions, this galvanized open discussions and learning about systemic inequity and racism. I was four months into my role at GV when I went to work that following Monday, heavy with both sadness and resolve, and led the team to explore our firm’s role in supporting change, addressing issues like the wealth gap and equity in healthcare.
We saw the venture capital industry respond with pledges to address equity issues in the ecosystem. This looked like improving access to funding, forging stronger partnerships with organizations focused on the success of underrepresented founders, improving pathways to venture capital careers, and increasing diversity of leadership teams and boards. On public company boards, there were 240% more Black board directors added in the five months after George Floyd's killing than in the five months prior. In private companies, 66% reported being open to first-time directors, including those with non-traditional backgrounds.
While the past year's activity brings hope, we remain focused on ensuring this change isn't only reactive. Even if well-intentioned, reactive, or performative actions can create harm. We know culture change takes time. It takes solid, long-term commitment and intentional collaboration, often led by individuals persistently working behind the scenes.
When we think of the time and effort it takes to evolve an ecosystem, we are reminded of Juneteenth. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in the fall of 1862, yet Black people in rural Texas were still enslaved until 1865. On June 19th, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce the emancipation of the state's enslaved. June 19th, or Juneteenth, has since been celebrated as Freedom Day. This week a bill was passed to officially declare Juneteenth a national holiday in the United States.
In honor of Juneteenth, we asked our GV investors and founders to nominate people across our portfolio who have fostered diversity, pushed for equity with meaningful results, or built a culture of inclusion in their company, for the customers, or in their industry. Our committee carefully reviewed the nominations, which ranged widely across sector, career stage, and personal background, to select ten remarkable individuals who are making a difference in their company's or industry's approach. This inaugural GV Champions of Change List recognizes ten pioneers across the GV portfolio.
Our Champions of Change honorees include, for example:
A VP of Health Equity at a virtual Medicare ACO comprised of independent practices, focused on decreasing health disparities for lower income Americans
A CEO of a children's development company that has created leadership councils to embed equity and positive racial identity into their books, toys and products
A data scientist (pronouns they/them) at a health tech company working to increase diversity in clinical trials while advocating for racial and LGBTQ+ inclusion
As a venture capital firm, we support companies from the earliest stages, and we've seen the impact individuals like our Champions of Change can have on their organizations. When startups integrate equity into business strategy and company-building early in their journey, they unlock more innovation, accelerate their success in new communities, and provide a healthier environment for people to thrive. Moreover, they allow the ideas and contributions of their people to shine — especially in moments of profound change that require profound courage.
Congratulations to the entire Champions of Change 2021 List. We continue to find strength and inspiration from you. And we will continue to amplify your work so others can be moved to join you.