New Industry Partner Spotlight: Heads Apart

Since we launched our Industry Partner program in 2015 we have built a community of industry-leading service providers that work with venture capital investors to help startups reach the next milestone. Today we are featuring our newest Industry Partner, Heads Apart Group, a boutique executive search consulting firm that optimizes NVCA’s commitment to diversity.

NVCA, the venture capital industry and leaders across the entrepreneurial ecosystem are determined to develop solutions for expanding inclusion in the innovation ecosystem as a key pathway to greater competitiveness. Gary Bembridge, CEO and Founder of Heads Apart Group, has been laser-focused on building those solutions his entire career. We spoke with Bembridge to discuss the approach Heads Apart has taken to support a more diverse tech industry.

Bembridge founded Heads Apart Group in 2008 to build an executive search firm with an inclusive approach to matching talent to roles in technology and venture capital industries. The firm’s recruiting process involves identifying well-rounded, talented individuals of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

Focusing on diversity and inclusion enables the Heads Apart team to tap into a highly qualified, and often overlooked pool of talented applicants. In our interview, Bembridge discusses the huge opportunity cost associated with leaving diverse talent on the sidelines, the importance of a proactive approach to sourcing and developing talent, and why diversity must be a priority in the executive suite and boardroom. Here’s what he had to say:

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NVCA: How does Heads Apart approach recruiting?

Bembridge: Diversity is simply a matter of opening and extending opportunity and inclusion. At Heads Apart, we first search for the best candidates all with the same core competencies. Then, we look for the intangible and cultural fit. In the tech industry, there is often an unintentional bias, in which people hire those candidates who are similar to themselves and overlook others. It is important for those in tech to break this status quo and consider diverse candidates.

NVCA: What role does human capital play in innovation?

Bembridge: Inclusion can create unique product development advantages that can only be gained from a diverse and globally scaled workplace and marketplace. The way that people consume media and information varies across cultures. Having a diverse group of people thinking about strategy across the country is important, and especially important in a diverse market like the US.

If you can’t market to each culture, you will lose out on potential customers at a local level and higher up as well. That’s why it is important to have representation from different cultures in the boardroom and in the workplace. For example, in the streaming music industry, Spotify leverages a range of local curators in each market to reflect local tastes and trends. If they didn’t do this, they could not have scaled up effectively to become one of the leading global music platforms in over 58 localized markets.

NVCA: Startups and other new organizations often do not prioritize creating inclusive talent strategies in the early stages of their ventures. Are there best practices that a new company or organization can implement to ensure that they are promoting diversity and maximizing the company’s potential?

Bembridge: In order to solve the huge opportunity cost associated with lack of hiring diverse individuals, Silicon Valley companies can be more proactive when it comes to sourcing and developing non endemic talent. To do this, companies can cast a wider net, while still maintaining high recruiting standards. It is important to look outside the box and recruit qualified talent from outside the norms: the same universities, clubs, societies—the typical recruiting networks or tools.

In addition, companies can focus on their responsiveness. Candidates routinely complain that companies never get back to them or if they are screened once they are then ignored if not deemed a fit. This transactional approach to recruiting is off-putting for many candidates.

Finally a great practice is to focus on diversity in the executive suite and boardroom. This type of diversification at a higher level will allow companies to better understand culture or gender norms amongst the rank and file, and also encourage employees of all backgrounds to aspire to reach these higher positions.

These practices, if implemented early on can a lay a foundation for creating a diverse and qualified workforce.

Connect with Gary to learn more about what Heads Apart is doing to pave the way for a more diverse ecosystem.