Diversity-focused investing: An ethics lawyer's view

Diversity-focused investing: An ethics lawyer's view

Keywords: part-time jobs, job share jobs, diverse staffing, startups, investing, ESG, sustainability
Industry: tech, marketing, public relations, media, insurance, financial services, fintech

Off the back of Covid, new ways of working, remote, hybrid, and the wider adoption of AI technology - the traditional corporate world is on the brink of a radical shift. Companies like Roleshare are creating new sustainable opportunities and true diversity in staffing for the workforce. As Kevin Withane, angel investor in Roleshare, points out, "it's not part-time. It's role sharing. It's delivering maximum value but being able to do other things and getting people back into the work, thus allowing for unhindered career paths for diverse professionals," allowing companies to be more agile. Kevin is the founder of Diversity X, a community for diverse founders to support one another. As a "recovering" lawyer, as he self describes, specializing in ethics compliance, Kevin now wants to apply his skills to real purpose. He says, by investing in businesses that are positively impactful and sustainable. 

In this podcast episode of Talk Roleshare we cover the following:

+ Kevin Withane is an angel investor in Roleshare and the founder of Diversity X, a community for underestimated founders.

+ As a "recovering" lawyer, Kevin wants to apply his skills to businesses that are positively impactful and sustainable.

+ Kevin launched a fund to support these founders, with the goal of empowering them financially and providing a safe space for them to grow.

+ In turbulent times, it is important to maintain focus on diversity so that companies do not see it as a luxury.

+ Diversity makes organizations more resilient, according to research from the McKinsey and Deloitte.

+ Roleshare creates diversity and opportunity, and Withane thinks it has the potential to change the way we do staffing in organizations.

+ Portfolio careers are becoming more popular, especially among younger generations, as they allow for greater work/life balance.

+ Role sharing delivers maximum value but is often discounted because it is seen as part-time work.


Kevin Withane: I describe myself as a recovering lawyer, but now I've been using that for a while. I've probably recovered. I've reconnected with my soul and my purpose, and it drives my decision making. I think it's actually helped me become a better lawyer than I probably have been in my 20 plus years career. Lived and worked around the world UK China, Hong Kong, Russia, and the US and practiced law in all of those jurisdictions.

Sophie Smallwood: So you are a recovering lawyer and now you are venturing out into quite impactful work

Kevin Withane: Yeah, so I think my journey to here started a number of years ago where I started looking.

I just felt I'm unhappy and I didn't know why. And so I started exploring why and it, I realized ultimately is I'm not fulfilling what I could. I didn't know what my purpose was. It's nice being a lawyer and I was doing well and the company's doing well climbing the ladder, but there was a deep emptiness inside of me and I don’t know why I'm, and for me, it came to realization and probably the day I got one of my biggest bonuses ever.

And it was like, went home, told my wife. I was like, I don’t know if I want to celebrate. I ended up discovering that I have a purpose in life, and it wasn't being fulfilled in just my day job. And I needed to know what I could do to get that hole fulfilled. And I tried to do things in my day job to fulfil that hole.

And that hole was being able to use my skills to help other people make the world better. And I don't think there was really the opportunity in the organization to do that fully for me. And so I spoke to some people in that organization, said, Kevin, work doesn't have to provide you with your life's fulfilment.

And I was like, okay. I actually disagree. I think it should. There is an opportunity there for work to do both. And to create the opportunities, but that's okay. Like maybe I should look outside. And when I started looking outside, it's I have all of these skills. And everybody's oh, your lawyer, okay, read contracts, help people negotiate.

But that's not what I do like on a day-to-day basis. That is not what I do. Actually, what I do is help people work with people and try and building that purpose, because I know that drives to great productivity. And do a lot of this with the ethics compliance stuff I do. That's all about doing the right thing.

And then you can translate that across the entire organization. And when you break it down, I call it operationalizing the good stuff. It works in my organization. It can work anywhere else. It's basically focus on people, purpose, drive, productivity, good process, procedures, policies. Less on the policies because too many words, confuses people.

But get people to do the right thing that leads into doing the right thing through ethics compliance. But creating those same frameworks helps you build sustainability. E S G. And that translates, and that's what I can help do. And I started to do that, wanted to do that outside of the organization I'm in, and I wanted to make money out of it.

And then realized people can't really afford me. So what can I do to help them? I'm not scalable. They need to be scalable. That's really important because I have three mixed race children. Two boys. Then my youngest one son's going to be six next a couple of weeks’ time.

The other one is 18 months. My oldest is, my daughter lives with my ex-wife in Taiwan. She turned 12 this summer. That means she comes into the workforce in six years’ time, potentially. And when you look at the workforce, it's unfair to her. It's unfair to all three because they're mixed race. So society already goes, get on back.

Yeah. But for her, society goes hold on, it's not just you mixed race, you're female, go even further back and get yourself to the start line. I can't accept that. And so ultimately, I was looking for a way to change the world to make it a bit better for them. And so I ask myself all the time, like when I speak to founders, is do I think you and your business is going to be around in six years’ time, in 12 years’ time in. 16 years’ time, and if the answer's yes, then I really want to have a conversation with you, because hopefully as a more sustainable world, you are building a sustainable business, because if you can last that long, pretty much you are going to be sustainable, and by the fact that you will be interested in building the inclusive world because you want to be profitable.

And the only way to do that is to be inclusive reality and going forward, to be sustainable. Then keen to understand more about what you are doing and how you're going to shape the world for my children. That's what drives me.

Sophie Smallwood: Now, you mentioned that you supporting founders, so how are you supporting founders today?

Kevin Withane: So when we started Diversity X, when I started it, it was on my own. And I was like, how can I support them? Let's just create a community, a safe space. We just started inviting people. You were one of the first to join. And I was exploring different ideas. Not necessarily sharing with the founders, but just like I wanted to create a place where they could have conversations, share ideas, collaborate, learn from each other, talk about the mistakes, which maybe you can't talk on LinkedIn because people will judge you in a non-judgemental space. When I say founders, I'm talking about very specifically what I term as underestimated founders, people of colour, women, LGBTQ+, disabled, neurodiverse and older- because there's a lack of opportunity in funding going to them. People are like, there's underrepresentation, there isn't because so many. How can there be an underrepresentation? It's an underestimation in my view and being overlooked.

So we just started having a WhatsApp group and it just started growing and got to the point where I thought it was getting out of control, actually, to be fair, some of the members were like, this is out of control because messages are all night, day, weekends, holidays, it doesn't matter, it's non-stop.

You need to move off this. And we grew. And we found that we were helping people by connecting them to opportunities to get access capital, not our own cause we didn't have any, but through building relationships and connections and talking about what we are doing. And founders then started to invite more people into the community.

Started to go outside of just the UK where we're, where I'm based and where you are based to Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US predominant. And then we're like, okay, we need to be more structured than this because there's so much great information being shared in the Swatch Wrap group, but if you're new to the group, you miss everything that's gone in the past and there's no easy way of finding stuff.

So I explored a few different fit solutions and then we end up moving to the Heartbeat platform where we are much more structured, but it's still very active. And we're growing and now we've got much more resources. I talk about the lack of funding game for these people and I meeting these people and I get; I try to talk with every founder that comes in at some point.

And what I'm finding is they're doing great stuff. They're really doing great stuff, and they can impact the world or even just their small community, but it doesn't really matter because there's impact. And they need help. And I can't just keep lambasting everybody else about the lack of funding going to these people, lack of access to capital, lack of knowledge, lack of this, lack of that, without doing something myself.

So for that reason, we decided to launch a fund one of what I hope will be generational. Brought on apart now and we've got a small team. Essentially, we're all volunteers. And this is ultimately a side gig until it become too big for be a side gig.

But I have a dream. I have like lots of dreams, but when people say, ah, would love to get on Sequoia or a 16 z I want a day when every single underestimated founder goes, I want diversity x because they're not just there for money or outsized returns. They're there for me. And to build a better society, but also bring financial empowerment, support, network community, basically also a safe space.

Sophie Smallwood: A really great dream to have, and I have no doubt that you will be genuinely investing in solutions that could drive a significant impact. I say this because in the journey that we had fundraising, there were some funds that on the outside were very much, we support diversity, equity, inclusion. We are very much a DEI fund, but despite numerous introductions, some of them didn't even schedule time to chat with us.

So it's really about having the right motivation, but also the action to back it up. And I have no doubt that you have the motivation and that the action will be there as well.

Kevin Withane: I appreciate that.

Sophie Smallwood: Let's talk a little bit about what's happening right now. Obviously really difficult times. A lot of announcements around tech layoffs and incredibly talented people working at some of the world's seemingly best companies, losing their jobs.

Behind curtains. People having conversations about how during these times, even though companies will say, DEI is important, in turbulent times, DEI falls out the window for a little while. It's a "luxury", obviously I don't believe that.

What do we do to make sure that diversity is not ignored in turbulent times? That companies don't see diversity as a "nice to have" as a "luxury"?

Kevin Withane: There are many different ways to approach the issue and I think there are many different opportunities for solutions to the issue, one of which is what you guys are doing. We can come onto that a bit, but I think there has to be an intentionality like these companies. I don't think most companies like set up and go intentionally going to be not focused on this.

It's just not the driver. And there needs to be a greater understanding of the impact of what diversity can have. Tech can enable a better. It doesn't build a better world. It doesn't create a better world, but it enables people to live better, healthier, more democratized lives, more access to key resources, to learning, to education, to healthcare, to so many different things.

It can improve our lives. Make us from time poor to time rich so I can spend more time with my children. All of these things, tech can do all of that. But to build the tech, you need to have people who understand what time poor is. What is time poor for a single mother, who has to work three jobs and her kids in school in a state school, and that kid has homework to do early years, they've got to do reading.

And you've got a mum who's super tired because she's working three jobs, just put food on table in a cost-of-living crisis where I've got a luxury of radiators and I could turn it on. We choose not to. She may, she doesn't necessarily even have that choice. Or being able to cook a roast in on a Sunday or heating.

How does that tech company know what it's like for her and how do they build a solution for her without having that knowledge? It's impossible. You need people from diverse backgrounds to help you do that. You may end up building exactly the same thing, but the way you came about that idea and got to it by evaluating so many different things will be different with a greater diversity.

Sophie Smallwood: There's tons of research out there from organizations the McKinseys and the Deloittes that have proven diversity can make organizations more resilient. You're an angel investor in Roleshare and we're very grateful for that.

But why Roleshare for you?

Kevin Withane: You help create diversity and opportunity and create a new way of working, which I think is going to be the future. In fact, I have no doubt what you're doing, unlike many sorts of diversity in recruitment, HR tech, I don't think you are in that field actually.

I think there are disruptors in that field, but I actually think you are creating radical change, and I think that's significantly different. And I wanted to be part of a radical change because what you are going to do is change the way we do staffing in organizations. There's a lot of data around portfolio careers, and even I would now describe myself as a portfolio careerist, right?

I think the next generations coming in are going to want to do multitude, full things and be able to do that and get paid for, to do it and be paid well. It resonates with me. I wonder if my financial position was different. Would I be looking at oh, I'd love to work in this company, but also if there was an opportunity, like to a sort of job share role here so we can deliver maximum value with a brilliant partner to do that with there. But then oh, that charity that I feel like I could really contribute they do need more than just my volunteer support. Could do that with somebody else. They get full support.

That is changing. And it's giving great opportunity, but also for those people- women in particular, I think get pushed back. It's not part-time roles. It's role sharing. It's delivering maximum value but being able to do other things and getting people back into the work, creating the opportunities.

They're brilliant women in the legal industry, where are all the women partners? Why they get pushed out after they've had children. And then it's hard. I know women, in fact my colleague, my ex-wife, it was hard for them. They're lawyers, but then it's oh, we've got to take a discount because you haven't worked for three years on your PQE.

Why? Why? What? What have everybody else been doing in that time? All those men being doing to really show that they're greater value. Why can't they come back in at the same level? I think you changed that and that's why I think you changed that mindset. It's going to take some. But you are helping educate the world on the way it has no choice to be on because people are going to demand it.

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