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How to promote diversity and inclusion in your company

Make a commitment - promote diversity through recruitment - keep your team engaged - seek out diverse funding - use your privilege for GOOD

Diversity in the workplace is a topic that is personally important to me and has been a central discussion in the tech industry for some time. However, D&I has come into even sharper relief over the last 12 months and especially since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in October of last year.

I’ve been speaking with lots of my fabulous white male tech pals, and it seems to me that beating them over the head with stats of how overwhelmingly the deck is stacked in their favour isn’t particularly motivating. Equally, letting things stay as they are isn’t going to cut it either … so, let’s focus on what we can all do, on the baby steps that can be made as soon as you get back to the office that will start to make a difference.

Before the actions though, let’s remind ourselves of the why – why should we be more diverse and inclusive (besides it being just the right bloody thing to do of course)?

Why? Well the evidence is overwhelming – study after study after study shows that on any standard business metric diversity will improve business performance.The evidence is overwhelming, yet things haven’t really shifted. Wondering why? Implementing change is damn hard, that’s why. Simply saying diversity is important is one thing, actually taking action is quite another. This is a hard problem, and there is no silver bullet to fix it.

Often, people are unaware of the impact their words or actions may have. Sometimes, just stopping to have an honest conversation can help people start to think in ways that promote a more accepting environment. Now of course, bullying or harassing behaviour is completely unacceptable and should never happen, but there are often far more subtle ways in which a work environment can feel unwelcoming to minority communities. It might be something as seemingly innocent as the aesthetics of the office.

With this challenging landscape in mind, what can entrepreneurs do today? If you’re a startup founder, what practical steps can you take that could have immediate impact?

1) Make a commitment

One of the first steps is stating publicly, that is both to the wider industry and internally to employees, that you are committed to improving and embracing a culture that promotes Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). This means ensuring a diverse funnel of job applicants, customers, partners and investors. It’s important to focus on this early while company culture is still taking shape. I’d really encourage measuring your diversity and inclusion stats and sharing these publicly, including goals and improvements along the way so others can learn from your experience. Take a look at this guide from NCWIT that will help you with the process of sharing diversity stats.

2) Promote diversity through recruitment

If you are truly committed to building a diverse team, then it requires putting a strong focus on hiring. This focus starts with making sure that all of your job descriptions are scoured for unconscious biases. Services like Textio can help you reword job descriptions to be more inclusive. Do you list skills and experiences that are not required or nice to have? Then either don’t list them at all, or say they’re nice to have so folks don’t count themselves out before they’ve even started.

Another handy tip is to seek out networks and organizations that represent diverse groups already, and ask them to promote the job ad – you’ll be surprised at how many will be happy to do this for you (and yes, if they ask for a fee, pay it – anything that promotes and supports the growth of diverse communities should be supported).

You can also take a look at this helpful set of recommendations from Project Include covering Hiring Best Practices.

3) Keep your team engaged

Promoting diversity can’t just be a process that comes from the top down. It’s critical to listen to and engage with employees on D&I issues. I’d encourage founder to have regular check-ins with employees both old and new to gauge their experience. New employees often bring a fresh perspective to an organization and can help identify areas for improvement.

It’s also helpful to integrate questions about D&I into annual or bi-annual employee reviews providing a regular opportunity for feedback. Mentorship can also play a critical role, providing a path for employees to successfully integrate into the company.

4) Seek out diverse funding

Investors play a driving role in the growth of any startup and can influence not only a company’s strategy and tactics, but its culture as well. That’s why it’s so important to look at potential investors’ track records in supporting diverse startups. Diversity should be a part of any pitch to investors and identified as a priority to ensure their help along the journey.

5) Use your privilege for GOOD

This one is for all of us who are in a position of privilege. Sure, I’m a women in tech which makes me part of an underrepresented group – but I am white, I had a wonderful upbringing with great education and healthcare – the deck is stacked overwhelmingly in my favour. I choose to use this privilege for good, I won’t speak on panels that are not balanced, I refer as many amazing underrepresented people for speaking events, as I can, I invite them to the stage so they can tell their stories first hand … there are so many ways that we can all influence for change every day. If you have any privilege at all, please use it well.

Next steps

One of the most profound ideas on D&I that I’ve encountered comes from the title of talk given by diversity strategist Verna Myers: Diversity is Being Invited to the Party: Inclusion is Being Asked to Dance. I often come back to this thought any time I focus on this issue and the multiple challenges it presents to us as a community of tech professionals and more fundamentally as people.

The steps I outlined above only start to scratch the surface of what is possible and what you should be aware of. There are a fabulous resources available from sites such as Project Include and NCWIT, which I referenced earlier. Also, you should read everything Aubrey Blanche has ever written, especially this post, and follow her on Twitter immediately.

Now, it’s important to have a plan in place to promote a diverse environment in the workplace. However, a plan won’t help without the energy and determination to see it through. That’s the hard part and that’s where the hard work is. It’s not just about opening the door for members of minority communities – i.e. inviting them to the party. We need to take the extra step once they are part of the team. So, put on your dancing shoes.

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