Organizations of all sizes are investing in understanding, measuring, and benchmarking the positive impacts of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on both their cultures and their bottom lines. But how can you integrate a successful DEI program when you are a company of one?
Even as startups, entrepreneurs should ensure that they are leveraging DEI strategies to set up their businesses for sustainable success. In speaking with startup leaders around the nation, here are some things that you can do right now to establish a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion from scratch.
Infuse diversity through your advisors
When your organization is new, your employees are likely your friends, fellow alumni, or people close to you who have similar experiences. You can enhance diversity of thought and experience by carefully considering your cabinet of advisors. Seek out diverse and multicultural professionals that can add not only perspective from within their areas of expertise but contribute a diversity lens as well. If you are a top college alum, seek out the scrappy, school-of-hard-knocks advisor. If you are a Gen Zer, who’s the Gen Xer on your team, or vice versa? Consider multicultural reviewers for your product or service as you develop.
Expand your network for diversity in hiring
Recruiting top level employees is important for any business, but rarely is any decision more critical to success than those first few hires you will make as a startup. To expand your diversity in hiring, first, you have to expand your network. Associations and startup groups can be a great way to share knowledge and find people with similar goals but with diverse and varied experiences. Ensure diversity among the candidates you are interviewing for each role, and choose the best hire from your candidate pool with a diverse interview team to mitigate unconscious biases. It is much easier to recruit highly qualified diverse candidates when you have diverse employees.
Interview your investors
As a startup, venture capital matters. It matters a lot. Bootstrapping a business is tough, but taking the wrong investments can make things tougher. Intentionally interview your potential investors to make sure that your values align, including the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is important because your investors often have significant input into your Board of Directors selections, and your Board determines the priorities and trajectory of your business. If your Board does not wholeheartedly support DEI as a strategic imperative and does not prioritize it in their own businesses, it’s going to be difficult to garner support for the investments of time and resources that are necessary to leverage DEI for better business outcomes.
Prioritize your personal development
Understanding more about diversity, equity and inclusion, its principles, and its benefits for your organization is imperative to creating sustainable business. DEI affects everything from your recruiting strategy to marketing campaigns to mergers and acquisitions. The more you learn, the more perspectives you seek out, the more you get comfortable with complex conversations, new terms and questions, the better you will be as a leader. Your employees are looking for permission to be vulnerable, to step out and share their ideas and try new things. You have to lead the way.
At a fast-paced start up, it can be difficult to find time to prioritize your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, especially when everyone is already wearing multiple hats and has so little time for additional tasks. However, building an inclusive culture from the ground up is easier than righting or retooling an already homogenous one, and reminding yourself of the benefits that DEI brings to your organization in terms of innovation, productivity, and profitability will ensure your focus on making it part of your comprehensive strategy for sustainability and growth.
About the Author
Jacqueline Ferguson is co-founder and Head of Content and Programming at The Diversity Movement, speaker, author, a member of the National Diversity Council and a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE).
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