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When It's Too Late to Think About Diversity

By Chris Algiere

When is it too late to think about diversity?

Ok, most people would say the answer to this question is “never,” but realistically there comes a time when your opportunity to be smart about diversity is long gone.

Companies like Uber and other Silicon Valley giants are under fire for creating either hostile work environments or having a homogeneous workforce, and now they’re scrambling to fix it. Their reaction? Making pledges and creating programs to hire more women, people of color, and other minority groups.

Despite these big initiatives, for them, it’s too late. Allow me to explain…

A homogeneous workforce is a symptom of not thinking about diversity from the start. Companies in Silicon Valley are now trying to treat the symptom by hiring a bunch of people that look different than they people they’ve got, but how much does that really change the DNA of a company culture?

If we can borrow an idea from holistic medicine, it’s this: don’t treat the symptom, treat the problem. Your startup might not have any symptoms yet, so it’s the perfect time to think about diversity.

Defining diversity for a company

Diversity is about creating an atmosphere where different ideas and experiences are considered. So really, it’s about expanding the way your company thinks and problem-solves. This often manifests itself in a group of people who don’t look alike, maybe speak differently, or have a variety of interests.

One major benefit of diversity - especially for a sales team - is learning to speak to people who are not in your traditional circle and people who you may not even be friends with outside of work. As humans, we surround ourselves with comfort and familiarity, but in order to expand our minds, we need to branch out. Creating this culture at work makes your employees better professionals and unlocks the potential for awesome problem-solving, different sales techniques, and the potential to reach more prospects.

How companies become not-diverse

It’s pretty easy to slip into a non-diverse culture. Founders hire people they can work with and are comfortable with. Those people hire others they are comfortable with. A sales manager notices that “athletes from school ‘X’” are doing well on the phones and bringing in sales, so they try to replicate that model and so on and so forth. Pretty soon you look around and see a bunch of clones.

For a while this works out really well, and your company is crushing it, but at one point or another you’re going to hit a bump in the road that could benefit from a different point of view. By then it’s going to be hard to bring in “different” people.

Take this example from a friend of LaunchSource, he told us this:

“We need to hire more women. I’m interviewing women and making offers, but can’t close the deal.”

As we dug deeper we found that when touring the office, the sales “bullpen” resembled a locker room - literally. There were bags on the floor, sports balls rolling around, high fives and gongs. This isn’t to say that any of that is bad, or that women don’t like sports or gongs. But the atmosphere was lacking professionalism and resembled that of a tight-knit team - one that would be hard to break into for anyone who didn’t like to toss a football around mid-day.

Creating diversity with your recruitment

To avoid creating a diversity problem in the first place, start diversifying in your hiring now. That may mean changing your recruiting tactics. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t recruit from the same colleges all the time. Mix it up, and talk to candidates from schools you may not consider "top tier"
  • Use neutral, non-gendered language in your job specs
  • Expand your recruiting efforts to different parts of the state or country
  • Think about how people with different college degrees or work experience could positively impact your team and explore those opportunities
  • Hire people who are different from you, not mirrors of you or a “younger you”
  • Create a clean, welcoming, professional workspace (Nerf guns aren't for everyone)

Creating diversity as a company leader

As a CEO or executive, you need to start thinking about diversity as early as possible. Don't silo the topic as a "woman or minority" issue. It’s a company issue that you will have to embrace at some point in your organization's journey.

Remember that diversity encompasses gender, race, ethnicity, tonality, culture, religion, food, dress, politics and topics that people are talking about today such as LGBT rights. While these may not be your typical workplace conversations, it's important to acknowledge them and be able to have a conversation if it comes up. As a leader you should be able to talk about these things in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Create a culture around diversity of thought. Allow your employees to learn from each other, other industries, other types of companies, and leaders that may bring a different perspective to your organization. It's important to be passionate about what you do, but also be aware about what other companies are doing. This process should include attending networking events, reading business books, going to professional development events, and making sure employees in different departments have a chance to get to know each other in a casual setting.

Finally, be the change agent. You have the opportunity to make diversity a critical part of your mission vision and hiring process. This involves all departments adjusting the criteria of what they look for in a new hire, and it involves critical thinking about where someone can contribute to you organization today and where they can contribute in the future of your growth.

Reframing the concept

As an industry, we need to reframe the idea of creating diversity in tech from an obligation to a benefit to your company. The larger you get without diversifying your workforce, the harder it gets to change, and your company will suffer. Not from bad press, but from a lack of ideas, innovation, and problem solving.

As much as Silicon Valley does to create diversity programs and awareness around the issue, their ship has sailed.

The future of a smart, dynamic, diverse workforce is not up to them, it’s up to startups and founders like you.

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