Ben Herman stepped down this week as CEO from his diversity recruitment platform Canvas, weeks after the Santa Monica-based company announced an unplanned $50 million series C round.
The investment sparked heated conversations in the diversity recruitment space for one reason: Herman and his co-founder Adam Gefkovicz are both white men. Many women, people of color and other diverse founders who have built reputable platforms themselves felt the sting of hitting a wall while raising funding — an all too common story in the investment space. It frustrated many to see the men raise millions more — and without even actively trying, as Herman told Forbes last month.
Herman started his career in the UK as a director of quantitative trading at Westbourne Partners in London and later founded a recruiting firm. He’s also a high school dropout and has spoken about being previously incarcerated.
He will move to a full-time board of directors position so that the company can “bring on a seasoned leader to take the company to its next phase of growth,” according to Canvas’ announcement. Representatives from Canvas did not respond to Times of E’s request asking why Herman stepped down.
In the meantime, Gefkovicz and the company’s chief people officer, Tariq Meyers, who is a person of color, will be the interim co-CEOs, according to the announcement. “I think Tariq is a great choice for CEO but it does nothing to address the larger issues around funding opportunities in the space,” wrote Jibril Sulaiman, founder of Atlanta-based diversity recruitment platform Incluzion, in an emailed statement.
Herman did engage in the conversation — he connected with multiple founders and leaders in space who pointed out the disparities in funding on social media. But several conversations that people shared fell flat.
One person Herman connected with was Christian Cho, a software engineer at San Francisco-based software company Sisu. Cho is its founding DEI committee member, Cho writes in a Oct. 8 Linkedin post. Cho asked him in the private Linkedin messages (which he shares in screenshots on his post) what specific actions Canvas is taking. “Without teeth, none of what you want really matters,” Cho wrote.
Herman told Cho his team is working on it and that an announcement is coming in a week. “Please give me some space to work on this as it’s not as simple as saying words it’s about our actions,” Herman wrote to Cho on Sept. 30. When Cho followed up a week later, Herman responded: “Please can you stop hounding me it’s becoming too much.”
“Frankly, I’m not surprised by this exchange,” Cho wrote in his post. “Experience has taught me that intentions and platitudes are not enough. When pushed and challenged, people in power will almost always react with defensiveness.”
White men have been a part of the diversity recruitment platforms who have raised a large portion of the funding in the space — more than half a billion dollars, Sulaiman says. The Black founders in the space that have raised the most are New York-based Jopwell’s Porter Braswell and Ryan Williams — they’ve raised about $12 million, according to Crunchbase. But Sulaiman points out that their backgrounds are in finance — they both worked for Goldman Sachs prior to launching the company.
“(That’s) far from HS dropouts or previously incarcerated,” Sulaiman wrote. “Canvas’ funding is a snapshot of the larger issue of a skewed VC funding system that favors a white male founders while they co-opt diversity and inclusion.”