Adrian Hackney on LGBTQ+ representation, fashion

Adrian Hackney in March 2021 at Boston, Massachusetts. Courtesy of Laura Goodfield.

Adrian Hackney, a rising junior at Harvard University, studies social anthropology, government, and economics. He’s part of the inaugural 2021 PRISM Investor Track. Reach him at adrianhackney@college.harvard.edu.

Why PRISM and venture capital?

I came into college not knowing much about venture capital or investing. But pretty early on, I started to meet different people just to ask questions and see what’s going on in the venture capital space. During my sophomore year, I did two internships in VC, one of which was focused on investing in underrepresented founders, and both of those experiences piqued my interest.

When I found out about PRISM, I was so excited because my biggest focus is on underrepresented founders. Being queer and black, I don’t see almost anyone like myself in venture capital. Sometimes I feel discouraged because one of the biggest ways to envision success for yourself is to look at people from the same background who came before you and experienced the same challenges, but overcame them.

When we’re thinking about increasing representation and breaking down barriers, that starts with a community. Without the community of PRISM and all of the people that are connected to it, I don’t see change happening on as broad a scale or as quickly. If we’re all trying to tackle all these challenges on our own, we just aren’t as effective as when we are collective. So for me, it’s been valuable to meet so many speakers who have had successful venture capital careers and my peers who are starting their careers in venture capital, or simply trying to learn more and establish connections.

What have you learned from the PRISM investor track?

I’ve gotten amazing advice from my peers, especially since some of them are MBA students and have more experience with life than I do. Taking care of myself and not feeling responsible to participate in every battle is something that I’ve learned a lot about through PRISM, especially from speakers who have shared really personal struggles and stories about mental health.

I always ask myself about authenticity and what that means, especially in spaces where you’re a complete minority, and there’s no one like you. I’ve had a lot of experiences with code switching and feeling pressure to change who I am to be more palatable because I’m highly aware of how people will perceive me. But what I’ve learned through PRISM, and especially being around such strong queer people, is that if others aren’t willing to see your full person and understand your story, then you probably don’t want them around you in the first place.

What does diversity bring to the table?

I see the world differently from a lot of people. And when you see the world differently, you understand the challenges that people face and the needs that people have from a unique angle. So much of venture capital is finding an unmet need that some community has, whether that’s a few million or billions of people, and devising a way to address that in whatever way possible. The more representation increases, the more of these fresh perspectives will be in the room when decisions are made. And the more underrepresented founders are acknowledged for their incredible ideas, the more VC as a whole will flourish.

Tell me about your interest in fashion.

I love fashion. When I was younger, I used to do a lot of sketching and creating my own designs. As I got older, it became more about following the fashion industry. Whenever it’s fashion week in Paris, London, Milan, or anywhere else, I watch the runway shows. I try to keep up with my favorite designers, especially those who are queer and black.

When I choose to wear something, I’m trying to share a part of myself with people around me. And that, of course, can be a complicated experience. On the one hand, I love wearing what I want, and what makes me feel comfortable and powerful. On the other hand, there are people who might not approve of what I wear, and instead think that because of gender norms and other normative mindsets there’s a certain way to dress. A large part of my journey with fashion has been claiming it as a form of empowerment for myself as opposed to a means to conform to the expectations of others. Fashion has been one of those areas where I can declare who I am in a very public yet personal way.

In venture capital, I’ve seen some interesting startups that are focused on genderless clothing. A lot of the dialogue about gender and fashion plays out within high fashion, and I don’t think those conversations should be restricted to the pages of Vogue or fashion houses that have long legacies. Such conversations are for all of us to have, and anyone who cares about fashion should be able to join in on that dialogue, in VC and beyond.

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This article first appeared on the DRF blog.

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