The entrepreneurial roller-coaster often leaves little room for "nice to haves" -- fun company outings, a break room stocked with snacks, dedicated innovation time. In the lean culture that so frequently shapes early-stage startups, it's all about making the most of what you have while relying on a small, but mighty, team to do it.
Unfortunately, however, many CEOs forego company necessities that they wrongly identify as luxuries. At the top of that list: diversity programs.
Why Diversity Programs Are Key
Whether you're just getting off the ground, gearing up for a buyout, or wading through an unexpected crisis, diversity is one of the most critical factors it landing success -- whatever that looks like for your company.
Here's why: As one Harvard Business Review study details, the very act of encouraging people to consider inclusivity from all angles -- yes, race and gender are key here, but so are educational and personality -- forces outside-the-box conversations that stimulate communication in ways never afforded by the daily routine of getting work done.
What's more, this fresh approach to team building and communication often has a wonderful side effect: innovation. When you're already thinking outside the box, it's not hard to extend that thinking to all areas of the company. In that kind of culture, new products, systems, and marketing tactics can emerge, making you that much more attractive to customers and/or prospective investors.
And if a crisis hits, a healthy diversity program will ensure your team is better poised to handle the fallout, given their exposure to working with people of different backgrounds in different settings.
Why Many Diversity Programs Fail
But here's the problem with a lot of diversity programs: Even in a healthy business climate, many of these initiatives are poorly conceived and have no follow-through. Occasional company-sponsored events often seem more obligatory than genuinely helpful, while only periodically available literature on diversity comes across as a lazy HR afterthought.
That's why, when you try to look up stats on diversity programs, you come up short. You'll find some, but they're not terribly reliable -- because, quite honestly, it's hard to say a company has a full-fledged, ongoing diversity program if they only offer one or two diversity events a year.
It's also hard to really define a diversity program, as each company's needs in this space vary. But that's hardly a reason to ditch the concept altogether. As the HBR study above showed, conversation and ongoing diversity efforts are the keys to success -- and are critical to shaping your company's diversity program in the future.
How to Successfully Implement an Internal Diversity Program
As mentioned above, there is no "one size fits all" model for diversity programs, but many companies start with what they believe are the basics: gender and race. The problem is, you can't start a conversation around these without triggering some serious emotions. Conversations easily get political and heated, illuminating deep-seated beliefs that you, as a business owner, are not likely to shake.
If you're concerned about these issues, then it's the job of your HR team to tackle talent outreach that connects your company with minorities of all kinds -- before employees are hired. (Pro tip: Start by contacting nearby universities and get involved in career days.) And if you're worried about your employees harboring racial or gender biases, then take a very close look at your hiring process and consider an overhaul to weed out candidates with these prejudices.
As far as internal initiatives are concerned, look at diversity from a more comprehensive angle -- instead of addressing separate "labels." Skip the "gender equality" day; instead, encourage team engagement in ways that allow people to share their own backgrounds, interests, personalities, and skills holistically -- not in segmented discussions on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.
In short: Diversity is not about identifying labels, but broadening and deepening our relationships to inform our view of the world. The result is better communication (which improves work efficiency and morale), higher emotional quotients (which improves engagement with customers/clients), and, as mentioned above, great innovation (which moves your company forward in the market).
How can these possibly be seen as luxuries?