A diverse team gives you a diverse set of ideas, experiences, and talents to work with.
But diversity often takes a back seat in startups, even when the leadership claims to embrace it.
Let's say you're a woman interviewing for a job at a small startup, maybe 10 people. All you know going in is that your initial contacts were both men.
You walk into the office, look around, and see 10 men of the same race. If you're a woman, or someone of a different race, you're going to notice that. And you're going to ask yourself, "Do I want to be the first woman here? Do I want to be their first diverse hire?"
It's always hard to be the first at anything. It takes a special type of person to be the first woman to join a company. And the larger the company gets with little to no women, the harder it will be to find that special person.
That's why it's important for startups to start thinking about diversity early before the makeup of the company becomes too heavily skewed toward one demographic.
As co-founder of a company that's 75 percent female, here's what I recommend:
1. You need to hire a female senior leader early on.
Your first 5-10 hires are crucial for determining your future level of diversity. If one of your co-founders isn't female, then you absolutely need to hire a woman in a senior leadership position as soon as possible.
Don't use excuses like, "I can't find anyone like that. I can't find a woman who can do this job." You need to look harder. It might mean you can't immediately hire all of your friends. If they look exactly like you, then you should probably expand your applicant pool anyway.
Those first few hires are the people who are going to continue to recruit new employees. And they're also the people who potential employees will look at when they come in for an interview.
Do you really want talented individuals walking away thinking they won't fit in at your company? Thinking they don't want to deal with being your token diversity hire?
I've experienced this myself when joining the Young Presidents Organization. At YPO, they break everyone up into a number of different forums, with about 10 people in each forum. I had the option of being in a forum that was exclusively male or one that already had two women in it. I didn't know if I had it in me to be the only woman in the forum.
Not because I'd feel uncomfortable. But I didn't want to be the token woman in the group who's supposed to represent the opinion of all women.
2. Make everyone feel included.
Being inclusive is more than what you do during work hours. It extends to activities and meet-ups outside of work.
Recently, I sat next to a guy at an event who had led engineering teams at a huge tech company in San Francisco over the past 20 years. And he mentioned that sometimes the engineering teams would do very male-centric types of activities for their off-sites, like driving race cars.
It wasn't that they didn't have any women on their team. They just didn't have very many women on the team, so the men usually determined what the off-sites would look like. This leader got feedback from the female engineers that they felt like this activity was planned so they actually wouldn't attend. Once he heard this, he made sure that any off-site events planned for his broader engineering teams were welcoming and open events for all.
It's important to make sure your off-site activities are inclusive enough that anyone can do them and have a good time. At ThirdLove, we've done scavenger hunts, trivia nights, sporting events, and other activities both men and women can enjoy.
Every event is not going to be completely perfect. Sometimes a small group of people won't love the activities you decide on. But if you notice that divide leans toward one gender time after time, then you likely have a problem.
3. Be clear about roles and what it means to be a leader.
We're rolling out a leadership matrix at ThirdLove. It contains all the different levels of the company, starting with entry-level and moving all the way to senior management positions.
The matrix explains the core competencies of being a leader in each role, from the ground up. We believe you can still be a leader even if you aren't a manager.
I think it's essential for any business to have something similar--some sort of clear description to help people identify where they are now and what they need to do to move up. That levels the playing field when it comes to advancement. Everyone is on the same page. You're all using the same metrics, and it's more clear whether someone actually deserves to be promoted or not.
None of these steps require anything extraordinary. But you have to start taking them early on if you're serious about attracting more women to your company and creating a diverse work environment.