Katja Toropainen is founder of Inklusiiv. For the past two years Katja was in the leadership team of Slush, Europe’s most important startup and technology event. In 2018 she was recognized as one of the 100 most impactful and influential persons in the Nordic startup and technology scene. Check out her conversation with Jonna Louvrier of the D&I In Practice team below.
JL: Katja, you lead a new movement challenging tech companies in the Nordics and Europe to improve their diversity figures and have managed to get companies that previously paid little attention to D&I on board to create change. Tell us how you came to work in the D&I space?
KT: The past two years I worked at Slush and was in the leadership team in charge of the content, program and speakers. Slush is a global startup event gathering around 20, 000 people from all over the world every year in Helsinki, Finland.
To do my work properly I had to understand the composition of our speaker lineup, and our own role in it. If we hadn’t paid attention, we would easily have ended up with almost all of the speakers being men. So I started researching the history of technology, psychology, and the way our brain works and how these things have contributed to where we are today. This is how I got into D&I. And I also got personally really curious.
JL: Looking at the technology sectors and the start-up scenes in the Nordics, in Europe and in Silicon Valley from a diversity and inclusion perspective, do you see differences?
KT: Yes, absolutely. And it's interesting that, while the Nordics have been the forerunners of equality in so many ways, the awareness about diversity in tech is much lower here, especially in Finland, compared to Silicon Valley where the conversation has been going on for so many years. In Silicon Valley many of these issues start being obvious to everyone. In Europe, the awareness isn’t anywhere near that level. In the Nordics we haven't even fully understood how much there still is to do. The data is pretty bad when you look at how many female-founded companies there are, or how much of the capital is going to under-represented teams. We're starting to have data about how things are for women, but we don't even know the figures for other under-represented groups.
JL: Today you lead a new movement accelerating change towards more diversity and inclusion. Could you tell us about that?
KT: Yes. The initiative I launched at the end of March this year is called Inklusiiv. First it was a website with a D&I manifesto and a resource bank with interesting articles and data, but very quickly it became a movement. People started contacting me saying they wanted to join. Companies got interested and ask advice on how they can create change. Media attention has been tremendous. All of it has simply been amazing.
JL: How do you explain your success? What enabled you get the conversation going?
KT: The reason it started so strong is that I was able to get really well-known people on board since the very beginning. People that other people in the business sphere look up to and listen to, such as Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen, author Linda Liukas and board professional Jorma Eloranta. I believe that’s the reason it hit the news and the word started spreading. And that is how it became a movement - a movement to raise awareness and to push companies create change. Maybe more critical however, is to keep the discussion going. And there we have succeeded thanks to a critical mass of people who care and have come together to make an impact. This is a true community effort.
JL: How do you see the role of non-profits like Inklusiiv within the D&I space?
KT: The power of non-profits is that no one is in it for making profits for him or herself. Therefore non-profits can function as platforms, involving people who care about the purpose. Organizations with a very clear purpose can become extraordinarily powerful. We need more brave conversations, and non-profits are in a great place to initiate such conversations.
JL: Do you have any advice for our readers? Is there anything specific to take into account when creating a successful non-profit to advance D&I?
KT: What I think is extremely important, and what I care a lot about, is being inclusive. Do not only include women or only include minorities. Make the discussion inclusive so that your movement attracts persons who might be the privileged ones, who might never themselves face discrimination but who want to learn and want to support the change you are driving. We will achieve greatest change when we are able to include people who are in the majority. When we get them on board to worry about these things, to support, to learn and to be allies, that's when the biggest change will happen.