3 Ways to Develop a Diverse Culture for Your Startup

February 23, 2017

11:20 am

Back in 2016, Techstars and Chase for Business teamed up to commission a survey covering 680 startup founders. The topic was the challenges faced by those building a diverse and inclusive company. On top of the report detailing their findings, Techstars and Chase for Business ran a panel at last week’s Tampa Bay Startup Week.

The panel was aimed at one of the biggest discrepancies surrounding tech diversity that the survey uncovered: While 72 percent of founders stated that they believe building diversity in their companies is “very or extremely important,” just 23 percent of the respondents said that one benefit of a diverse staff is “improved financial performance.” The panel’s title, “Five Steps to Use to Diversity & Inclusion to Improve Your Bottom Line,” directly addressed this concern by emphasizing the financial benefits of a diverse, inclusive staff.

Here’s a look at the report and what the expert panel had to say about it.

The Facts

It is widely known that, as a whole, the tech industry needs to lead the way in their efforts towards diversity and amplify their efforts. The report confirms that, just one in ten startups surveyed qualify as “diversity leaders,” a term for any businesses whose “practices and policies result in a technical staff that includes a minimum of five women or minorities.”

Don’t Be Colorblind

Startup founders need to start by studying the phenomenon of racial differences rather than ignore it. One term used to ignore the status quo? “Colorblindness.” Here’s what Rodney Sampson, Partner and Chairman of Tech Square Labs & Opportunity Ecosystem, said about this issue during the panel:

“We want people to be color brave, not color blind.”

The proper response is for a company to have an intentional focus on combating systemic issues and not sacrificing quality.

“[Be] intentional about curating the team. We can’t ignore the differentials that make us great as a society,” Sampson continued.

What People Can Do

Potential action areas include encouraging young girls to consider STEM careers, an idea suggested by panelist Joanne Persinger, the Senior Vice President of Information Technology at TechData. Currently, just 27 percent of workers at major STEM companies are women, and there are fewer women in computer science than there were in the 1980s.

Rodney also emphasized the need for grants aimed at the retention of college students in STEM majors:

“It’s one thing to get them into a computer science or engineering or IT degree in undergrad, but if in that first year they don’t have a support network, they pivot to business or they pivot to marketing. They really need to see what the industry looks like from the other side. Those are programs that you can plug into,” Rodney said.

Finally, Erik Smith, Director of Cultural Competence and Inclusion at Valpak, suggested one simple way to be more inclusive: Question whether your company might be over-vetting women or people of color who apply.

Build a Culture Early, Not Retroactively

This survey’s results are perhaps the most essential for a newbie startup founder to understand, as they are the ones about to ramp up hiring. Rachelle Orbibio, Program Director at Techstars and the panel’s moderator, summed this up prior to the panel. Here’s her response to the question of how founders could intentionally develop a diverse culture as they expand their team:

“Diversity enhances creativity, innovation, problem solving, and access to talent. These traits are important drivers of financial performance and startup success. As a starting point, founders should visit the microsite and read through the full report. There they’ll find data, resources, and actionable steps towards becoming diversity leaders.

But more than that, it’s the right thing to do. […] If founders build teams with diversity in mind, they will create an inclusive culture from the very beginning. Issues of diversity and inclusion will be addressed organically. Doing it retroactively is much more difficult.”

Establishing a diverse company culture isn’t an artificial move: It’s a smart way to build a healthy bottom line.

Image: WOCinTech

chase for businessThis article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at Chase.com/forbusiness. Read the rest of our Startup Week series.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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