Sharon Vosmek: Advocacy that endures beyond investment is crucial

3 Jun 2022

Sharon Vosmek appearing at Future Human remotely. Image: Conor McCabe Photography.

Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek spoke about the company’s Edge programme which advocates for black women founders, who are often treated differently in comparison to other CEOs.

Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek is no stranger to Future Human audiences. In fact, she opened her talk this year about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in investing by greeting Future Human curator Ann O’Dea like an old friend.

Vosmek told O’Dea and other in-person attendees that she was sad not to be able to be in the room with them at Dublin’s Trinity Business School. She was adamant that she would be back in-person in 2023, however.

From her location in the US, Vosmek spoke with characteristic frankness about how difficult it is for black women CEOs to get funding in Silicon Valley compared to other groups.

It was less an admonishing sermon and more a strong wake-up call to anyone in the business world who thinks all funding opportunities are created equally for everyone.

A Future Human favourite, Vosmek is known for speaking out on issues such as gender inequality and the larger cultural problems affecting workplaces in Silicon Valley.

At Inspirefest (Future Human’s predecessor) in 2017, she spoke about toxic work culture and the “continual tone deafness” in Silicon Valley.

The previous year, she had blunt words for investors overlooking women founders in the marketplace: “Shut your mouth and write the cheque.”

This year, Vosmek was more contrite. Her talk on the future of inclusive investing focused on a group she, like so many others, had ignored or overlooked.

Unlike a lot of other Silicon Valley high-fliers, Vosmek decided that Astia should do something to address the inequality between black women CEOs and others.

When she realised that black women founders were being judged by different parameters compared to their white counterparts, Vosmek started Astia Edge, a programme designed to redress the funding imbalance.

“It was not nice to do, it was a must do, and that advocacy will endure long beyond our investing. It’s our obligation to make sure the market hears of the success of these entrepreneurs, and our success as investors in investing in that.”

Setting up Astia Edge was a lightbulb moment for Vosmek as it encouraged her to recognise her own agency in bringing about a more inclusive investing environment. She urged other limited partners, general partners and entrepreneurs to realise their agency too, and be proactive in fixing inequalities.

“We’re often ready to be critical of what is or is not happening in the market without recognising our own agency to create change,” she said. “What’s truly exciting for me as I look forward into the innovation landscape, is how many of us have an agency to do something different and to make the world better reflected within the innovation economy.”

Vosmek addressed entrepreneurs directly, saying: “You have agency. You can look at your teams as you build them. If you don’t bake in inclusion at the earliest stages of a start-up it is much harder to do it later. I would actually argue once you hit 50 people within a company, it is impossible to change the construction of the individuals within a company. That’s why still today large corporations struggle with their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic