At the bottom of the Techstars Code of Conduct, right above the—as of today—1802 signatures to it, there’s a line: “The Techstars Code of Conduct is a living document managed by our community.”
We take this idea of our code of conduct as a living document seriously, and we’ve made changes to it a few times since we introduced it in March 2015. We’ve made these changes because, as people and as a company, we’ve grown to better understand the issues at stake and what we believe are the right ways to address them: issues like the profound importance of Diversity & Inclusion, how to engage with a #GiveFirst network that benefits everyone, and when to take “no” for an answer.
I’m actually quite proud that we’ve made changes over time—this shows that we’re still thinking hard about these problems, and still doing our best to solve them. Something like a code of conduct should never be considered finished, because that would imply that we’d stopped learning.
Never stop learning.
While I encourage you to give the whole Techstars Code of Conduct a read, especially if you haven’t done so recently, here are the changes we’re making today.
In the header section, we’ve tried to clarify exactly what our code of conduct is, as well as why it’s important, and we pulled out a few top-level instructions about response time and sharing opportunities—things that, when we all do them, really make our Give First network benefit everyone over time.
Some of the numbered changes are similar; practical details about how to live and work #GiveFirst:
2. We respond quickly in-network. We make every attempt to prioritize and respond to requests from fellow Techstars network members, ideally within two business days.
5. We respect “no” as an answer. If another member says no to a request, we respect their decision.
6. We share talent and business opportunity. Whenever we have finalist candidates that we choose not to hire directly, we share them with others in the network. When we become aware of good business opportunities that we choose not to pursue directly, we share them with others in the network.
A few more are clarifications of previous statements:
12. We do not steal assets or content. We encourage and respect independent, innovating thinking. We do not plagiarize content from anyone.
13. We are responsible with controlled substances. If consuming alcohol, we do so responsibly and in moderation. Alcohol is never provided to minors. We do not drive under the influence of any legal or illegal drug. We do not distribute, use, or operate under the influence of illegal drugs (defined by local or federal law) while participating or engaging in any Techstars program or event.
18. We are committed to diversity and inclusion. We are committed to building inclusive work environments that reflect and value the diversity of people and cultures found in the world, which we believe leads to better companies. To ensure that our commitment to diversity and inclusion are tangible, we adopt the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments, a set of four actions known as “G.I.V.E.” (Goals, Invest, Volunteer and Educate).
Finally, we’re making sure that these rules, however obvious they ought to be, are written out rather than assumed:
14. We abide by all local and federal laws. We do not do business with bad actors. We honor international sanctions. We are careful to do business only with lawful parties.
15. We do not pay or accept bribes or kickbacks. We do not engage in any form of corruption. We act with integrity in our dealings with others and strictly prohibit corrupt activities.
22. We respect our legal agreements. We follow the spirit and intent of our legal agreements.
By Jason Thompson, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars
Recently, I purchased a new TV. I decided there was no reason to read the directions. I figured I love technology, and I’m reasonably handy, so: no need for directions. What could go wrong?
I soon realized that every channel was in a foreign language. My first thought was that the cable company inadvertently sold me a lineup of channels for this particular foreign language. I assumed all I needed to do would be to change the channel to a local station. I was wrong! The local channel was also in a foreign language. The characters from a very popular US sitcom were speaking in English, I could tell, but the audio was something else. The audio did not match the video. The sound and the action didn’t match.
A simple principle of watching TV is that the audio matches the video. Much the same principle—that what we say must match what we do—is the basis for Techstars decision to update our Code of Conduct and incorporate the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. We have publicly said we are committed to Diversity & Inclusion, so it makes sense incorporate this into our Code of Conduct, plus adding some clear things we can do to act on our statements. Audio matches video.
The Kapor Founder’s Commitments have 4 pillars: Goals, Invest, Volunteer, and Educate (G.I.V.E.). We commit to hold ourselves to these standards, and we ask that all members of our network do the same. By having these pillars, our audio will match our video. It is one thing to say we are committed to D&I—but it is even more important to show how we are achieving on our stated commitment. G.I.V.E. is a tangible way to measure and implement our D&I commitment. As this project progresses you will be able to see a dashboard on our website that will show how Techstars is achieving on the G.I.V.E. commitments. You will see that we are not perfect; D&I work is a journey. We have places for improvement and projects in progress. We want make sure we are being transparent.
We know D&I is important, but it has to be reflected in our Code of Conduct and it has to mean something tangible. That is why we have included the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. Kapor has been a leader in the D&I space, so there was no reason to reinvent the wheel. We have worked closely with Kapor and we are grateful for their encouragement and shared learnings.
There was another thing that happened when I finally figured out how to change the audio on my TV to English… the video was fine, but somehow the audio was about one second behind the video. I could now understand everything, but the sound didn’t quite sync up with the images. First their mouths moved, and then came the speech. This was hugely distracting, to the point I couldn’t even watch my show.
The timing of the audio must also match the video, because even the slightest delay creates problems that cannot be ignored. This is quite a metaphor for fair pay for equal work. If you review the changes to the Code of Conduct you will see we have also expanded our D&I commitment to include fair compensation for equal work. Companies commit to diversity and inclusion need to make sure what they say is reflected in their actions and includes fair pay.
If you are paid a salary that is even a little behind what your co-workers are getting for equal work, it is unjust. Justice should not be asked to wait. It also creates an environment that breeds resentment because the solution is simple: pay all people a fair wage for their work. That is why we included in the Techstars Code of Conduct that all members of the network commit to ensuring everyone receives fair compensation, including all forms of equity and benefits. Audio must match video.
In addition to asking everyone in our network to sign the Code of Conduct, we are building a drip campaign for all new founders to assist them in meeting the D&I commitment. It will remind them quarterly of their commitment to D&I, and offer suggestions for them to achieve on the principles of G.I.V.E. Many of these suggestions cost little and are designed to assist even the youngest startup achieve on their D&I goals in a manner the is consistent with their size and resources.
Plugging in a TV seems simple enough, but the details are important. Being handy and loving technology are not enough for setting up a TV—or a productive D&I program. Liking people from diverse backgrounds and assuming that you have no bias is not enough. Building a D&I program requires commitment and focus. The commitment must be reflected in policies and programs. As Techstars continues on our D&I journey, we thank Kapor Capital for their work in the D&I space. And we ask that you join us on our journey. It is equally importantly that we all commit to working to ensure that the audio matches the video: that what we say matches what we do.
Thank you to those of you that have made suggestions to the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct. We have listened, and below you will find a new version of the proposed change based on a suggestion made via the website (as of 10/02/2018). Your suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
The Techstars Founder’s Code of Conduct is a living document managed by our community. We are reaching out now for your input on a proposed change to the Code of Conduct. Because we believe in diversity and inclusion, we wanted the Code of Conduct to better reflect that commitment. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated. Please submit your thoughts here by October 12, 2018.
13. We encourage diversity. We are committed to building inclusive work environments that reflect and value the diversity of people and cultures found in the world, which we believe leads to better companies. To ensure that our commitment to diversity and inclusion are tangible we adopt the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments, a set of four actions known, as “G.I.V.E.” (Goals, Invest, Volunteer and Educate).
25. Fair pay for equal work. We are committed to ensuring everyone receives fair compensation (to include all forms of equity and benefits). We appreciate the commitment our employees make to the success of our companies and agree to compensate them without regard to ability status, age, ancestry, civil union, class, color, ethnicity, familial status, gender, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, military service (current or past), national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or other status. As a member of the Techstars network, we agree to be committed to eliminating all forms of pay inequality.
At Techstars, we live the shared values of creating a safe, positive and respectful network. Back in July, we asked every member of our network to sign the Techstars Code of Conduct. We also asked those in the network to report violations of the Techstars Code of Conduct to the saysomething.techstars.com channel.
We first published the Techstars Code of Conduct more than 2 years ago. Since that time, it has helped guide all our network participants. As we have said from the beginning, we expect it be a living document, updated with input from our community.
We recently updated it to ensure that all members of our network were included – from our accelerator and startup programs to every mentor, investor, participant, community leader, facilitator and the Techstars staff. The should feel more inclusive to our Startup Program community.
The second update that we made to the Techstars Code of Conduct was to offer more clarity around the use of drugs and alcohol at events.
We hope that you agree with and will support these changes. As always, if you see behavior that may violate the Techstars Code of Conduct, please reach out to your leadership or send a note to email@example.com so we can promptly investigate.
If you’re around me long enough, you’ll most likely hear me talk about the importance of radical inclusion at a Techstars Startup Week™. Making sure everyone, regardless of background, feels welcome and included is at the heart of this community building effort.
As organizers of Techstars Startup Week, this sense of welcoming is just as important as the educational content that’s delivered – maybe even more so. Creating a space where people feel safe and have a seat at the table where their voice is heard is a huge step towards creating a healthy and sustainable startup ecosystem.
One of the tools that we use to create this safe environment is our Techstars Startup Week Code of Conduct. These are the parameters by which all participants in Techstars Startup Week agree to abide by. Whether you’re a panelist, speaker, volunteer or attendee, by participating in the event you agree that you’ll take part in creating an environment that’s free from harassment.
In order for our Code of Conduct to work, it’s your responsibility to enforce it. It’s one thing to have people agree to follow it, but it’s an entirely other thing if an incident arises but no one is willing to take action.
Failing to take action can have a long-term, negative impact on how your community grows.
There have been many examples throughout the years where organizers of other events failed to act when something was reported, resulting in a dark cloud hanging over their event, and sometimes causing damage to the community afterwards.
I know that enforcing the Code of Conduct can be difficult. When a report of inappropriate behavior comes to our attention, it can feel like a punch to the gut. But it’s in those moments where we have to step up and protect the integrity of our work. If we’re truly committed to bringing our community together, fostering deep and long-lasting connections between entrepreneurs, then you owe it to them to act when something comes to your attention.
I encourage you to read through the Techstars Startup Week Code of Conduct and share it with everyone participating in your Techstars Startup Week. If an incident should arise during your event, having this code to point to will help tremendously, especially if the person accused feels they did nothing wrong.
In situations where you feel stuck or need some guidance, feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our online reporting tool, saysomething.techstars.com. We’re here to help you and make sure your attendees feel any situation is handled appropriately.
I also encourage you as a Techstars Community Leader to sign a pledge to abide by our Techstars Code of Conduct if you haven’t done so already. It’s a great way to let our community know you’re committed to upholding the ethics we all stand for.
Ever since industry news about sexual harassment began to surface, we believe that it’s more important than ever to reinforce a positive, safe and respectful network. Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. We are ten years old and have had over 3,000 founders come through our accelerator programs, more than 8,000 investors and over 15,000 mentors currently in our network. Over the last decade, more than 1 million people have attended our community events and we are now active in more than 160 countries around the world.
From our inception, Techstars has been rooted in a set of core values that we chose to expand two years ago to our Code of Conduct. We have reinforced with our staff that if they “see something,” they need to “say something.” While our Code of Conduct has been in place for two years, we have recently received feedback that we need to provide more clarity on how to report violations and what will happen when violations are reported. On July 5th, we discussed our Code of Conduct in a blog post and added additional mechanisms for reporting violations. Today, we want to provide some additional transparency on our process for reporting issues and how we handle violations.
First, people may report any issue to us through saysomething.techstars.com. This link was set up so that we can receive information in a timely manner. We have left the option for the report to be fully anonymous. People may also report an issue directly to a Managing Director, Vice-President or C-Level executive within Techstars or via email at email@example.com. We urge people to take immediate action in situations that are dangerous. If someone is in danger or is hurt, they should call whatever the local emergency number is (i.e. for the USA this is 911).
As soon as an issue is reported, we speak with our legal counsel to determine the right course of action. We make a determination if our Code of Conduct was violated, which could include an investigation where we reach out to parties involved in the situation. During an investigation, we may suspend members of our network. We treat any information that is reported as highly confidential. Our investigation’s primary purpose is to determine if our Code of Conduct has been violated. It is not our role to be judge and jury, only to do our best to protect our network from bad actors and that is our focus.
At the conclusion of the investigation, we determine a resolution. Potential examples of resolutions are expulsion from our network, a warning discussion, or education about Unconscious Bias and Workplace Harassment. We let each party and any directly involved third party know what actions will be taken. In the event that a crime has been committed, or a labor or general law has been violated, we will involve the correct authorities including the police.
Second, we are actively working to provide more transparency into the reporting and closure of issues. How we codify our reporting is yet to be determined, but we are working on a way to generally report on violations and resolutions.
We ask that people continue to share information with us. In cases where we have been made aware, we have already remediated known violations. In cases where we are just finding out about violations, we are investigating and taking action. We recognize that our efforts will require support and cooperation across our widely distributed network. Our Code of Conduct is a living document – we will continue to iterate and evolve it, along with our processes, as we grow globally. We will do our best to ensure that our Code of Conduct is broadly inclusive of all those in the Techstars Network so that we can make our communities a safe and supportive place for entrepreneurs to grow.
Please reach out to us if you have information that you would like to share – saysomething.techstars.com is a good way to communicate concerns that you may have.
Last week was a watershed week, of sorts, for the VC industry in general. Several prominent VCs were revealed for inappropriate behavior relative to gender discrimination and general sexual harassment. It was not a proud moment in the VC and overall tech industry. Techstars cares, deeply, about people. Not just the people at Techstars and in our worldwide network, but about all people. We feel a responsibility as leaders to make sure that we do our best – and help others do their best – to provide safe, comfortable environments for people to grow and work within.
Techstars has been and remains firmly committed to the Code of Conduct that we first introduced in March of 2015. We drive Techstars forward based on our mission to be the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. This means helping each and every entrepreneur succeed no matter their race, gender, age, country of origin or any other attribute.
Every employee at Techstars is employed based on the promise to follow our Code of Conduct and we expect everyone in our network to follow it as well. Recent events have motivated us to renew our commitment to this code and improve our implementation and enforcement of it.
Some examples of new initiatives include:
- If you are in our network, we are asking that you voluntarily sign our Code of Conduct, today. Going forward, we will require signing our Code of Conduct when you join our network.
- For all VCs and Investors, we are inviting you, free of charge, to join us in committing to Emtrain’s Decency Pledge by taking a few hours of your time to get educated and informed on best practices on: Preventing Workplace Harassment, Managing Unconscious Bias, and Code of Conduct and Ethics.
- To make sure that we are as informed as possible, we have added a submission form saysomething.techstars.com and an e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org for people to use to report any violations they may have experienced or witnessed relating to our Code of Conduct. The form has the option for people to remain anonymous.
- We are clarifying and improving our existing process of investigations of any issues reported to us.
Please help us continue to ensure that Techstars and the world is a safe, secure place for entrepreneurs to grow, learn and accelerate. We strive to give everyone the best advantage to succeed by #givefirst, acting with integrity and treating everyone with respect.
No one person or company can change the problems that have been revealed – but if we all work together for the good of the whole, we can make big change happen.