My own company, Techstars, isn't perfect when it comes to diversity.
I realize that I am a white male, writing an article about how to attract and hire more diverse startup employees, specifically women, but I am very proud of the number of women we have at every level of our organization. Fifty percent of both our executive and total staff is made up of women. They are, however, mostly white women.
The uncomfortable truth is that women from underrepresented groups are not well represented in tech, and that is something we are working very hard on. What is clear is that many (or most) of us still have room to improve, including at my own company.
It can be easy to think that your startup can't move the needle on closing the gender gap, or that this isn't important for you to focus on at an early stage. But it's going to take every one of us to fix this problem, and diversity and inclusion should be on every entrepreneur's mind from the beginning.
Here's what we've learned in our journey to tackle the challenge of inclusion, and how startups can start on their own path.
Recruit a leader and gather the data.
In order to make diversity a priority, you have to have someone lead the initiative and hold the organization accountable. For some startups, especially those that are early-stage, it may not be realistic to hire someone to focus on diversity and inclusion, that's ok. What's important is that someone outside of HR is tracking this and making sure your startup is being intentional--that person doesn't have to be VP-level.
The first step for this person is to understand the current status of your organization and collect data. You should know how many women work in your organization and what percentage of women are from underrepresented groups, so you can measure growth. Race, ethnicity and gender are inextricably tied together, and understanding that the experience of women around the globe can be intertwined and uniquely different at the same time is paramount.
You also need to make sure that everyone in your company is paid fairly, receive equal amounts of equity, and that these standards are written into your code of conduct. Equal pay is fundamental to inclusion.
This is one piece that's actually easier to do when your company is small; you can start gathering data the moment you launch, and continue as you grow. Or start today, whatever your company size.
Recruit from inside, and outside your network.
Once you've taken stock of where your organization stands, it's time to look at how you will recruit new talent. You can start by reaching out to the great diverse women in your network to see who they'd recommend for the role you're looking to fill. Leveraging second and third degree connections can be very successful.
When looking outside your network, consider working with partners that can help expand your applicant pool.
Partnerships with organizations like digitalundivided, a nonprofit that helps Black and Latina women in tech and entrepreneurship identify applicants and interview them, are significant because they ensure that diverse applicants get visibility in recruitment efforts.
It's also important to note that expanding your own personal and professional network to include diverse people and encouraging others to do the same help to support your diversity and inclusion efforts.
Require gender diversity in your applicant pool and your interview panels.
A 2016 Harvard Business Review found that if there's only one woman in your candidate pool, there's statistically little chance she'll be hired--the same applies to the question of race and minorities. So what does that mean? It means that if you want to make your organization more diverse, you have to ensure that both your applicant pools and interview panels are diverse.
If you don't currently have the right people at your company to create diverse interview panels, then consider including a board member, advisor, or trusted mentor to have more diverse voices included.
At Techstars, achieving greater diversity and inclusiveness is at the core of our larger corporate goals. It's not an easy journey. It requires our leaders and teams to sometimes face uncomfortable challenges and demonstrate humility. That being said, we are true believers that diverse teams produce better results. We also understand that because we are funding nearly 500 companies annually, not only are we modeling behavior for our portfolio companies, but we can also influence the diversity, and ultimately the success of our own portfolio and the larger tech ecosystem as well.
We have a long way to go as an industry, but I'm glad that we're having these conversations and energized by the progress that's being made. I encourage other startup founders and leadership teams to embark on their own journeys to create more inclusive organizations.