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Photo courtesy of Christy Maxfield
Photo courtesy of Christy Maxfield

Nationwide, the need for increased diversity and inclusion in the startup space has (rightfully) gained more attention. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal government’s anti-discrimination watch dog, recently held a rare public hearing to examine disparities. We asked local leaders in the innovation class to weigh in on what St. Louis is doing right and how the city can improve as we move forward.

Christy Maxfield is the director of entrepreneur development services at CET.

From your perspective, what is the current level of inclusivity in the tech/startup community in St. Louis?

We have some diversity, not much inclusion and little equity. We are a lot like other tech/startup places in the country.

What would a more inclusive ecosystem look like?

People of color and women would be in leadership roles at all levels and would see themselves, their ideas and their values represented in the diversity of the ecosystem’s resources.

What are a few things that could be done to get there?

A Minority Concept Fund would help address the need for early stage funding and technical support for underrepresented minority entrepreneurs. Ecosystem leaders need to find ways to bake equity into their missions, programs and cultures.

What are some wins that you’ve already seen that show we’re taking the right steps as a community?

The biggest win is that we’re talking about it and finding ways to address the root causes of inequity. We have the BioSTL Inclusion Initiative and Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, but we have a long way to go.

In your role as a leader in the startup space, how can you use your influence to further progress and make STL’s ecosystem more inclusive?

I can be accountable to women, people of color and other underrepresented people in the work I do to understand the problem and to change the thinking and behaviors that perpetuate the status quo. I have made inclusion and equity central to CET’s work in service to entrepreneurs and the ecosystem.

This story appeared in EQ’s Summer 2016 issue.

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Kelly is Cofounder/Managing Partner of EQ and Cofounder of ALIVE Media Group. After earning an M.A. in literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Kelly cofounded ALIVE in 2002. He believes becoming an entrepreneur can change not only the life of that entrepreneur, but also his/her community and the world, and that being able to tell stories of transformation like that is the best job one could have.