A Harvard-trained lawyer, Mandy Price left her legal career to co-found tech company Kanarys Inc., which provides the tools, data and benchmarks to create long-term, systemic changes for diversity, equity and inclusion. Kanarys helps track and measure not only diversity, equity and inclusion but also their impact on business. Price spoke at the 2019 Women in Business Summit.
How has the business world changed since the start of your career?
Since the start of my career, I’ve seen a positive shift in DEI, and as someone who has dedicated my life to this work, it is reassuring to know that businesses across the country are making DEI a business priority.
According to a World at Work study, more than 8 in 10 (83%) organizations said they took action on DEI initiatives in 2021. We’re also seeing a rise in Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) — the hiring of CDOs has tripled in the last 16 months from the end of 2021, according to a DiversityInc report.
Furthermore, we’ve noticed our clients are asking that we present the DEI data we collect and analyze to their CEO. CEOs have become personally involved, invested, and willing to hold the organization accountable to measurable KPIs. This is incredibly important because, for DEI to advance within an organization, CEOs and senior leadership must make it their priority.
Lastly, DEI is a priority for younger generations and underrepresented workers, and a recent survey showed that 83% of Gen Z candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.
How have you changed?
When I first graduated from college and then law school, I thought that the business world worked in the same way as an academic setting. I believed that your success could be based on merit and how hard you worked to achieve your goals, but in reality, there are so many barriers that exist for underrepresented individuals. For example, while I knew that the number of women in leadership was small, I didn’t know that the reason was systemic in nature until further in my career. I’ve changed for the better; I can see more clearly how to solve these problems in ways I didn’t understand before.
What obstacles have you faced?
One of the obstacles I’ve faced is the funding gap that exists for founders of color, particularly women. According to the Q1 2022 PitchBook NVCA Venture Monitor, in the first quarter of 2022, all female-founded teams received 2.0% of venture capital, down from 2.2% in 2021, and Black and Latinx female founders raised less than 1% of venture capital.
Did any of the obstacles surprise you?
While there are many talented entrepreneurs in Dallas-Fort Worth, the startups headquartered here are often overlooked in traditional VC financing. When I first started fundraising for Kanarys, I was excited about the opportunity to launch and grow our company in such a great business market. However, I realized that for such a strong market, Dallas had more work to do in terms of supporting their many talented entrepreneurs.
What experiences, training or education best prepared you?
My experience at The University of Texas at Austin and McCombs School of Business was pivotal in my journey and has been instrumental in our success at Kanarys. My interest in DEI began early when I helped create the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT-Austin. Additionally, during my freshman year, UT President Larry S. Faulkner created the Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness, and I was named one the student representatives. This opportunity allowed me to work on campus issues and create a culture and environment where everyone felt like they belonged. This ultimately sparked my passion for diversity, equity and inclusion, which led to the creation of our business.
UT-Austin is also where I met my co-founders, Star Carter and Bennie King, and Kanarys actually began with our close friends who were McCombs and UT grads as our employees. They were willing to work for free to support our mission and dreams.
Additionally, during my time at Harvard Law School, I worked at the Harvard Civil Rights Project, where I conducted research on how to make our educational systems and workplaces more inclusive and equitable. Through this work, I began to understand the power of data and how organizations can be set up from an institutional standpoint to create equitable and inclusive workplaces. Data is the foundation of Kanarys as we transform DEI work by providing the framework, benchmarking, and data companies need to incorporate best-in-class DEI into every area of their organization.
What has helped you the most during your career?
With entrepreneurship, things can feel insurmountable at times, so I’ve learned that you need to have a great deal of tenacity and grit. This has helped me tremendously to not give up on myself, our team, and our vision for the workplace of the future.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
I was once given advice to focus on making meaningful connections with everyone you meet because you never know who could impact your company one day. I know with Kanarys, the connections we have made, even as undergrads, have helped us tremendously and this advice has served us well. Many of our first investors were actually our friends and connections from undergrad and law school — proving the importance of making connections.
What is the worst advice?
One of the worst pieces of advice is telling people, especially underrepresented individuals, to keep your head down and work hard. Underrepresented employees are working against a number of barriers like conflicting gender or cultural norms, a lack of advocates, role models and sponsors, and microaggressions to name a few. In order for underrepresented employees to thrive and advance their careers, companies need to examine their policies and programs to ensure they are able to overcome existing barriers.
What do you wish you would have known earlier?
I wish I would have known earlier that it would take my co-founders and I three years before we would take a salary. My advice for entrepreneurs is to save and account for that. If you’re starting a business, there may be an extended period of time before you have a reliable source of income.
What advice would you give to others?
I advise everyone to take care of their mental health and to give themselves the same empathy they show others. I believe we can accomplish all our dreams and goals, but we have to be gentle with ourselves along the way.
Whatever they do, I advise them to never lose sight of their vision and mission. Things can begin to feel impossible at times as an entrepreneur, but if they keep their vision and mission top of mind, they will eventually reach a turning point.
Do you have any memories of Women in Business?
It was incredible to be in a room with all these women who were making a huge impact in their industries. I remember being inspired and empowered by them and their stories, and I especially recall listening to Roslyn Dawson Thompson with Texas Women’s Foundation speak about the importance of women reclaiming their power.
What do you think the future holds for women in the business world?
Businesses have to be the drivers of change, and they have the power to redesign broken systems. They have the ability to implement programs and initiatives that actively make workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces, removing barriers for women and allowing them to thrive. For example, they must examine their systems, policies and procedures to ensure the playing field is level for these women so they’re able to equally advance through the ranks.
What book had the most impact on you and your career?
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.
What is the biggest mistake you see women making when it comes to advancing their careers?
The mistakes happening are more within our systems, as opposed to something wrong women are specifically doing. Companies need to provide support for women in the workplace and give them the flexibility they may need to care for their children and families. Companies can assess their employees to find out what they really need and also re-examine the policies and programs they have in place to see if they’re providing the necessary support so women and caregivers can stay in the workforce.
Another barrier is women aren’t advancing into manager-level roles, and according to McKinsey, “For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted — and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.” Women are getting stuck in entry-level positions, leaving fewer women to advance to senior-level management positions. Companies need to examine their policies and procedures around their promotion processes to level the playing field and get more women into first-level management.
It’s especially important to call out that these barriers are even higher for Black women as they’re promoted more slowly than other groups of employees and are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions. Companies need to provide better support for Black women by addressing their specific challenges and barriers in the workplace. When assessing their employees’ experience in the workplace, companies need to make sure they’re focusing on the intersectionality of various identities.
What was one of the most interesting (or useful) things you learned this year?
This past year, I learned that you need to give yourself and your colleagues grace and compassion. Given the pandemic and everything happening in the world around us, you never know what someone may be going through. I lost my mother last summer, and it really helped to be in a supportive work environment during such a difficult time. The pandemic has been extremely taxing on people’s mental health, and I have learned how to be responsive to that with our employees. At the end of the day, it is my job to check in with folks, which ultimately gives the team permission to share concerns and feel comfortable taking full advantage of all of the resources we have available. In order for my team to be at their best, I have had to make sure they are taken care of holistically. I’ve also learned that sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast.
What’s a recurring hurdle for you? (time, money, attitude, location, knowledge, etc.) What strategies are you using to overcome that?
Raising VC funding has been difficult as there’s a funding gap for founders of color, particularly women. According to Crunchbase, startups with all-female founding teams drew an all-time-high 3.4% of all venture capital dollars in the U.S. in 2019 and that declined to 2.3% in 2020. The ecosystem doesn’t always make room for women and underrepresented founders because venture capital is a network-based industry that works based on warm introductions.
Because of this, my co-founders and I have had to approach fundraising differently than others might. We have had meetings with investors who completely discredited or not understood what we have been doing. They didn’t think the problem existed. Our strategy has been to find a way to connect with our investors, almost everyone has a way to relate to this story and wants to better our world.
We knew from our research that VCs ask male entrepreneurs more promotion-oriented questions which focus on hopes, achievements, advancement and ideals. While women entrepreneurs receive more prevention-oriented questions which are focused on safety, responsibility, security and vigilance. A promotion question begets a promotion answer, and a prevention question begets a prevention answer. So, we prepared ourselves by arming ourselves with data and practicing spinning “prevention” questions into “promotion” answers to establish confidence with VCs.
What’s your personal brand and how do you nurture it?
I’m committed to creating a world where the next generation feels included and empowered to be themselves in the workplace, and I have made it my life’s work to help companies step up and create change from within in order to build a more diverse and inclusive society overall. If I were to use one word to describe what I hope my personal brand is, it would be inclusive.
Local Profile‘s 21st annual Women in Business Summit will be held on September 30 at the Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel. Click here for tickets.