Startup Diversity

Startup Diversity

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN STARTUPS

Every industry would like to believe that it is a meritocracy – especially the tech sector, which is more progressive than others.  However, this isn’t always the case.  There are many studies that show that women and minorities are still underrepresented in the tech sector, and the good news is that Silicon Valley seems to be willing to take the necessary steps to change that.  There are obvious problems with the opposite sex, where investors may ask someone on a startup out for a date, or otherwise make an inappropriate comment that simply isn’t professional.  There are biases against women because they may have kids, for example, and as a result, there may be female founders that are constantly trying to balance family life and their startup life, which is natural. However, the problems arise when they are discriminated against because of the fact that they are a mother, or have a family.  There are founders who may choose to elevate someone else, for example, because they believe that they are less burdened by responsibilities at home.

Tech founders can be brilliant, ambitious, and idealistic.  The truth is that they have to be: their job is to solve some of the biggest problems in the world.  However, often times, they assemble a team and already start raising money for a startup without even considering that they may not have a diverse company, in any form or fashion.  Of course, the “white male” is often times painted as the stereotypical power figure – and there is nothing inherently wrong with a startup with a white male founder.  However, what if literally everyone at that company is a white male?  It allows the narrative to be spun that the founder may only hire white males, which of course can lead to scrutiny and backlash.  This may not even happen on purpose, although, admittedly, sometimes – it can.  Often times, startups think about this issue way after the problem already exists, which leads to all sorts of deeper problems.

The question has to be asked, if you are hiring nothing but people of a certain gender or ethnicity, aren’t you actually doing your company a disservice?  Think of how many advertising campaigns have been exposed as extremely insensitive, even in modern times.  If the company had even passed these ideas by someone who was a woman, or someone of color, they could have avoided a public scandal.  This can 100% apply to startups, as well.  The fact of the matter is that someone from a different country, or someone of a different gender, can help your company see things from a different perspective.  If you notice that your startup is only appealing to males, wouldn’t you want to be able to ask a group of female employees, “Hey, what are we doing wrong here?”  Often times, startups seem to forget that being diverse and inclusive isn’t necessarily some mandatory regulation that they have to acquiesce to, but that they could be an asset that makes their company more successful and relatable. 

Why you would want your company to be more diverse and inclusive

There is also a very obvious reason to why you would want your company to be more diverse and inclusive: you want the best talent.  Every startup should be focused on having a product or service that attracts the best tech talent in the world.  We all know that that means they could be from anywhere.  We are lucky to live in a world where there are so many countries that have access to technology that can change the world.  Your next mega-hire might be from another continent.  What happens when that person asks about your company culture, only to find out that there isn’t anyone that works for you that looks like him, or her?  Will that person be comfortable when they hear rumors that the company isn’t as inclusive as it could be?  Of course, this now means that your company may take a backseat to a company that is more progressive and diverse. 

It’s important to note that even if most of the people on your team may not believe that there is a sexist or racist undertone to your startup, that you should at least be sensitive to the idea that certain things may be uncomfortable.  There may be jokes or comments that are not explicitly scandalous, as much as makes for a less professional climate.  Sometimes, having these tough conversations and receiving feedback from the women and minorities that you work with, could mean that your company completely improves the way that it interacts, and leads to better morale, which, of course, can lead to improved productivity.

The truth is that the problem is a very detailed one.  There are many that would argue hiring a “token” minority, and asking him all of the questions about that particular ethnicity – is inherently racist, as well.  If you are a founder, and hire a woman, for example, and it becomes increasingly clear that you only hired her for her opinions about how women will react to your product or service, and not for her own merit – this won’t empower her to feel like the startup values her as much more than “the token woman”.  These discussions are all difficult, but necessary, and as long as the dialogue is open and happening, then there is room for improvement.


Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important to realize the way that public perception works.  No matter what the makeup of your company is – recognize that there may be a problem.
  • Diversity and inclusion often means that you have access to more perspectives, which can only help your company.
  • A startup with a climate that is open, means that they can attract the best talent in the world.
  • Be open to dialogue, no matter how difficult it may be.