Connecting Tech with the Next Generation of Black Executives
Executives, board members, and the early employees and investors at technology companies have among the greatest opportunities to generate wealth and impact society today.
However, these positions are still overwhelmingly held by people from a single racial and ethnic background, even though there is ample evidence that companies with diverse executive teams and boards of directors perform better than those without.
Executive search firm Daversa Partners is among the leaders of the charge to change that reality. The firm, which serves the technology industry, has focused on increasing overall diverse representation for years. Now, Daversa has developed a new program dedicated solely to ensuring there is Black leadership on the boards and executive teams of the most important companies and investing firms in technology today.
The program, called Dreamscape, partners with tech companies and venture capital firms to connect Black talent with leadership opportunities. Dreamscape was formed in 2020 and is publicly launching with more than 3,000 members in its network. Early partners include Robinhood, Brex, and AppLovin, as well as venture capital firms Greylock and Venrock.
“Daversa has a history of being brutally intentional. We pick a problem, we apply all of our resources, and we guarantee an outcome. Candidly: that’s how we do search,” says Clinton Browning, who recently joined Daversa to run Dreamscape. “Black executives are the most underrepresented in boardrooms and leadership teams. We feel if we’re going to take something like this on, it may as well be something that no other firm would sign up to do. We want to be the game changer.”
Browning, along with his colleague Michelle Comendul, recently joined the Greymatter podcast to discuss the mission of Dreamscape. Greylock executive talent partner Holly Rose Faith, who works closely with Daversa, also joined the discussion.
You can listen to the conversation here.
Let me start off by welcoming everyone to Greymatter. Thank you so much Clinton Browning and Michelle Comendul from Daversa Partners and Holly Rose Faith from Greylock. Thanks for being with me today.
Holly Rose Faith:
Great to be here.
Clinton Browning, Michelle Comendul:
Thank you for having us.
Let’s get right into things. Let’s start with a little background on Daversa. Michelle, you’ve been there since 2015. Tell me about the firm.
We are a specialty firm that builds management teams for tech startups and late stage private companies. Our model is to work horizontally at the C-suite. We have specialists in every functional role across your executive team, both for B2B and for consumer [tech]
Our focus is building full teams for private, venture-backed companies. Through this work, we’ve done a lot of team building work within Greylock’s portfolio over the years. Which, when we started this new division Dreamscape, kind of made it a natural evolution to approach Holly Rose about a potential partnership with her and the Greylock team.
Dreamscape is an entirely new division, entirely focused on creating more opportunities for black representation in tech.
This launch is dedicated to ensuring that there is black leadership represented on the boards and on the executive teams as some of the most important companies and investment firms and technology that are being built right now.
We started this division in 2020, and essentially we spent the first nine months entirely focused on building network building relationships.
The firm had always had strong relationships in the black executive community, but we wanted to take a beat to expand our aperture and also identify talent outside of our network and work on uncovering who is the next generation of black leaders: people who are rising through the director ranks and in the next few years will be ready to step into VP and C level roles.
We spent the better part of 2020, really doing this work. We did not talk about this externally. We did not actively seek out client engagements, but we did invest a ton of time and a ton sources into making sure that we really had a solid network as the foundation of the project.
Then, come late 2020, early 2021, we started to actively look for clients and partners who were aligned with our mission that could help us actually put the work into motion by creating connections and opportunities for these black executives in our network.
When we were thinking about how to partner externally, we decided on two avenues to start. The first being, direct partnerships with clients to add black representation to their boards. The second being, partnerships with venture firms to help them close their network gap.
When we were in this network building mode last year, we realized that all too often, when we’d have these introductory conversations with executives. When we’d ask them, do you have relationships with partners or talent partners in the venture community? Nine times out of 10 the answer was no.
What we wanted to do was figure out a way that we could build a bridge between the black talent in the industry and the venture communities as they build their portfolio companies. Whether it be for a role that’s open right now, or a role that’s open three months from now. We had conversations with 10 to 15 of the top venture firms and Greylock was wildly enthusiastic about coming on board.
Then, in terms of where we’re at in our life cycle, we’ve kind of got our early proof of concept at this point. We’ve proven we can do it and as we look at the next chapter, it’s really about scaling this impact. Which is why we recruited Clint to join us.
Well, Clint, that’s your cue. Tell us about your new role. I’d love to hear also a little bit more about your background of how you worked up to this.
Right, thank you. My background started almost 25 years ago. I was fortunate to be at Korn Ferry as they were creating and launching their first ever diversity practice. I played a role in helping to drive that initiative on a global scale. What that really led to was a professional life of being very focused on and around executives, diversity in executives.
Most importantly for me, was that the outcome, not just the search, not just the slate, but that the outcome, the winning candidate would be a diverse candidate. That kind of calling card became part of what I did.
In reference to the role, Daversa is an organization that has been known for going above and beyond kind of stepping out into areas that others have not. This opportunity felt like the right opportunity at the right time with the right kind of organization who was really saying, “How do we go about actually making an impact? Not talking about it, but really executing on what so many others are simply talking about.”
That’s really kind of where I’ve come from and what led me to be attracted to the Dreamscape opportunity.
Why did you land on this model as it means to expand representation in leadership positions? How does the tech and VC ecosystem tie into everything?
Yeah, in today’s world, I think venture firms play a huge role in building teams and surfacing talent for their portfolio company. If I’m a founder, I turn to my investors first, when I’m thinking about making an executive level or board level higher, because they have incredibly powerful networks. They don’t always have incredibly diverse networks.
I think more so now than ever before, there truly is this demand and this will, and this want to change. I think there’s a whole spectrum of clients and venture firms out there who are at 100% on the readiness scale when it comes to figuring out it’s time to figure out how to do it. We wanted to capitalize on that.
If I may, I want to talk about the backdrop to all this.