Notes from the Forward Partners + EY Diversity & Inclusion event

Forward Partners and the EY Fast Growth Platform recently hosted an event discussing the issues founders face around hiring and retaining top quality, diverse talent along with raising capital.

The EY Seren penthouse was bustling with a mixture of established and aspiring founders and we were joined by Sophie Adelman from WhiteHat, Reece Chowdhry from RLC Ventures, Anna Faelten from EY, and Kate Glazebrook from Applied to share their experience and insights.

Here are some key takeaways from the day.


Start early

Companies that believe they can ‘payback the diversity debt’ later will have a harder time trying to hire a diverse workforce when the team they have built is homogenous. If you make diversity and inclusion an active consideration early on, it will become easier to build a richly diverse team down the line.

Get a Diversity and Inclusion (D/I) policy in place. This will always be a work in progress, subject to iteration and refinement as your business progresses, so don’t be put off if you don’t think that it is ‘the finished article’. This is also now a requirement for a number of VC funds.

Only list the requirements you actually need

A long list of requirements that aren’t truly needed will limit the people who apply to the job.

Hire for competence and skills, not the number of years of education and experience, which are poor predictive indicators of how someone will perform in a role. Avoid job description with ‘X years of experience’ or ‘MBA required’ which may prejudice people from different backgrounds, particularly socio-economic backgrounds, if recruiting for an MBA.

Anna from EY describes how removing academic and educational qualifications from the hiring process has resulted in a large surge in applicants to the EY student programmes and has resulted in a more diverse workforce.

Consider all the options

Is a person working 9am - 5pm in the office truly necessary? Flexibility around working hours, location or the potential for job sharing is a big draw for many and empowers working parents.

Juggle Jobs ‍is a great place to find candidates who are looking for flexible work. For entry level roles ask yourself whether an apprentice could be suitable. Whitehat are creating access to a diverse pool of talent. More on whether this might be suitable for your business here.

Review your processes

Neutral reviewing processes means the best candidate is hired and provides equality of opportunity.

Also watch out for gendered language that might be subconsciously putting off certain groups from applying to a role. Run job descriptions through software to check for neutrality.

More details on recruitment process bias from Applied here.  

It should be Inclusion & Diversity, not the other way around

Inclusive cultures

If companies don’t create cultures that foster inclusion then they become a leaky bucket where talent is recruited but not subsequently retained.

This should be an ongoing conversation not just something that happens when a company is looking to hire. There was a general feeling in the audience that the focus is too often on just hiring.

Fund Raising

Consider your growth plan

There may be a tendency for women to create a more realistic growth plan and financials whereas men are sometimes more bullish, described Kate.

Due to the VC power law (most returns come from a small % of companies that do phenomenally well) VCs need to be able to believe you can achieve massive growth/revenues.

Find a mentor

Interestingly the advice here was to find someone that is 6-months ahead of you, instead of looking for a successfully exited entrepreneur. A founder who has recently closed a round will have the fundraising process fresh in their minds and they will be able to steer you around potential pitfalls.

Stop saying women don’t receive VC funding

This is something I personally feel passionate about. Let’s focus on how women can and do succeed rather than focusing on the negative. This TED Talk from Jess Butcher advocates celebrating successful women’s achievements (for both genders to look up to), without always framing it with their minority representation.  

LPs are starting to ask the questions

Reece said at RLC they wouldn’t invest in companies that aren’t diverse, or where the board is all non-diverse. The reasons for this are multiple but include increasing pressure from LPs i.e. the investors in VC funds.

From the audience: What they would like to see more of in future

  • Founders writing the blogs on fund raising rather than just VCs

There was a general consensus that founders want to hear more from other founders on their experiences.

  • More data from VC funds on the diversity of their portfolio

Particularly the performance of diverse teams compared to non-diverse within the portfolio.

  • Ways to overcome the warm introduction problem

More ways for founders to overcome the warm introduction problem to VCs/angels.


Louise started out as a medical doctor and has experience in a number of medical and surgical specialities. She has undertaken research in a world-class laboratory, is published in an international medical journal and has presented work at multiple national and international conferences.

Following this, she joined Entrepreneur First where she developed a healthcare communication platform.

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