Our BlackHer Sheroes of the Week are Mandy Price, chief executive officer, and Star Carter, chief operating officer of Kanarys, a new online platform that “empowers individuals to speak up and organizations to build more inclusive work cultures.” Price and Carter recently raised $1M in venture capital (VC) and as a result, joined an elite group of Black female founders who have raised a 7-figure round. I talked to the law school friends about their journey to entrepreneurship and their ambitious platform to make workplaces work for more people.
Congratulations on your recent accomplishment to raise $1M in funding for Kanarys! How is it going?
Mandy: Thank you! Starting anything new is hard but it’s especially challenging to launch a new tech platform! And as women of color, we had an additional hurdle to jump.
Star: I agree. We closed a sizable round recently. But fewer than 40 Black women entrepreneurs have raised $1M+ in funding and according to Project Diane, fewer than .02 percent of venture capital funding goes to Black women. It’s a challenge because you need money to build a business.
Mandy: The same barriers that we are trying to reduce and eliminate in corporate America also exist in VC-land. One prospective investor told me that he loved the idea of our platform but was uncomfortable with a woman leading the organization.
What did you say?
At that point in our conversation, it was clear to me that he didn’t believe in our vision of diversity and inclusion, and therefore, shouldn’t be an investor. I was actually thankful to receive this insight early on. Sometimes founders don’t get advance notice that their investors have different objectives or visions for the business than the founding team.
It sounds hard. Is the celebrity culture surrounding venture capital doing a disservice to Black female founders? Venture funding is only an option for specific companies and as you say, being beholden to the wrong investors can be a terrible thing.
Mandy: Before starting Kanarys, Star and I were both private equity attorneys and we saw the misalignment between some PE (Private Equity) firms and management teams. It’s important to remember that what’s best for a fund might not be what’s best for a company long term.
Star and I have thought a lot about who we want to align with from an investor perspective. We’re happy with the money we’ve raised. That said, we know that raising money and building a successful company are two different things. At the end of the day, building a successful company and helping companies create truly inclusive and equitable workplaces, is our goal. That is what drives us.
Star: I do think that there are other ways to get money, for example, social impact funds. And, in general, the VC landscape is changing. People seem to be more focused on profit-potential vs. hype. That said, we talked with some investors who did not get Kanarys at all. They said, “Do you really think that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a problem in companies?” Founders should vet investors carefully and ask themselves if VC-funding is the way to go.
Let’s talk about the platform. I love the name – Kanarys- and assume it’s a reference to the canary in the coal mine.
Mandy: That’s right. We want to help folks find workplaces where they belong. We do this by encouraging people who write anonymous reviews about their workplace culture and environment. Kanarys is like Yelp for companies.
As you may know, 97 percent of companies have diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives but fewer than 25 percent of professionals say that they are benefiting from these programs. That’s a big disconnect.
At Kanarys, we’re taking a new approach. We’re helping companies use data to understand their workplaces through the lens of their employees. We’re bringing the voice of the employee to D&I (Diversity & Inclusion). We’re also creating a public accountability mechanism to provide more transparency around corporate D&I initiatives. Currently, too many D&I programs rely on celebratory experiences, like celebrating Black History Month or Women’s History Month. This approach may be enjoyable for employees and management teams but it doesn’t address the fact that Black women aren’t getting promoted.
I really love the idea of learning about a workplace from your peers. That’s so important, especially for Black women. I also love your emphasis on creating D&I benchmarks and metrics that can lead to structural change in organizations.
Mandy: Yes, Kanarys provides a platform so that when Black women are looking for jobs, we can find workplaces where we believe we can thrive.
And we want to avoid places that are toxic! How do you define success at Kanarys?
Mandy: On Kanarys, employees have a voice in the workplace and a way to raise issues and get them addressed in a fair manner. They have a true advocate at work, not just a complaint box. Also, corporations are publicly accountable for diversity and inclusion metrics, in the same way that they are accountable for sustainability. Our employee reviews and data can help them get there.
One of our BlackHer Sheroes, Michelle Wimes, shared that the Corporate Equality Index by Human Rights Campaign had made a huge impact on her law firm. Are you creating something similar?
Mandy: Yes, the Corporate Equality Index has helped companies create policies with regard to their LGBTQ employees. Kanarys aims to develop a standard for measuring and evaluating inclusion and workplace equity that everyone can understand. And, again we publish these results to help employees understand workplaces.
Healthy competition among companies is a good thing. All of the D&I research says that transparency and accountability are key to building a diverse and inclusive workplace.
I’m curious about your personal relationship as co-founders. Can you share a little about how you decided on your roles at Kanarys?
Mandy: Star and I went to undergrad and law school together and then ended up working for the same law firm for two years.
Star: Kanarys was Mandy’s idea. She approached me. She is very persuasive! She talked me into leaving law to join her in this entrepreneurial journey. Mandy is the visionary. I’m way more Type A. I focus on the short-term milestones, which aligns well with the chief operating officer role. I’m all about getting the organization to the next step.
How can BlackHer readers and subscribers support Kanarys?
Mandy: Go to Kanarys and create an account. It’s going to take our collective voices to change workplaces.
Who are your BlackHer Sheroes?
Star: Courtney Caldwell at ShearShare, Kathryn Finney of Digital Undivided and Project Diane, and Morgan DeBaun at Blavity. We’re also big fans of Senator Kamala Harris and, of course, Michelle Obama, who continues to reinvent herself in such impressive ways.
Let me ask you the miracle question. You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and it’s December 2020 and a miracle has occurred for Black women. What happened?
Mandy: The day-to-day marginalization of Black women no longer exists. The wealth gap is gone. We have achieved pay parity.