Often when I first mention "diversity" to a tech CEO, I get either a deer-in-headlights look, or an assurance that they support STEM programs for poor kindergartners. Please continue to support the pipeline--remember, those kindergartners are your future employees and customers. However having a diverse workforce NOW gives you an advantage over your white-washed competitors.
How? Well, firstly: the demographics of the country (and world) are changing to the point that in order to scale, it's crucial for any company looking to go public and/or be bought to have staff members with deep intelligence in the "New General Market". Coined by Jeffrey Bowman, a Senior Partner at Oglivy and founder of The Cross-Cultural Marketing & Communications Association (CCMCA), the New General Market is a term referring to the 99% or so of the world that isn't made up of straight, white, middle-class males.
Secondly, diversity benefits your company because diversity equals innovation. That means you will have a heads-up on new trends, processes, and possible-use scenarios that your competitors haven't thought of because they spend all their time hanging out with, to put it bluntly, themselves.
So how can you, CEO of a startup, increase diversity in your company? Here are three relatively simple ways.
First, acknowledge how diversity benefits your company.
Simply acknowledging that difference is good can go a long way toward establishing a culture of diversity. This can be as simple as writing a post on your company's blog about why diversity is important to you as a leader and as a company.
You could take it a step further and look into creating a monthly innovator series that invites diverse top thinkers (please make sure they're not all hip-hop stars!) into your company to meet with staff . You can start with thought leaders like Zuhairah Scott, General Manager of UberDC, or Lauren Maillian Bias, bestselling author and founder and former General Partner of the Venture Capital firm GenY Capital, or Dr. Kortney Ziegler, who founded Trans*Hack, an organization using the power of technology to highlight and support trans* techies.
If you want someone with "traditional" Valley cred who can also talk about diversity, then you might reach out to Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and creator of the spreadsheet, who along with his wife, Dr. Freada Kapor Klein, is actively helping top tech companies like Pandora and Twitter expand their concepts of diversity.
Second, be mindful of your branding.
Here's a quick exercise. Get a piece of paper and draw three columns. Label one column Women, another White Men, and the last Non-white Men. Now open your company's website and count the number of each in the top level pages of your site. Now look at the column. Do you have at least one check in the Women and Non-white Men column? If not, then you have some work to do.
I'm not saying you need to run out and hire the first black person you find, --but do realize how your branding might create the appearance of exclusion. A quick fix, besides hiring more people from the other two columns, is to partner up with (or purchase/invest in) a startup with diverse founders. While this might seem a bit disingenuous, if done properly it's a win-win for both parties. You get help with your optics around diversity and the diverse startup now has a well-funded partner that can help them get over the "pattern" (only investing in companies whose founders fit a certain image) issue in order to raise funds.
Lastly, broaden the search scope.
Ivy League schools are great (full disclosure: I graduated from one). However, top notch Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are great as well. Check out "Black Ivies" like Morehouse, Spelman, Howard and Florida A&M, all of which have excellent business and/or computer science programs. You might also build a relationship with a Seven Sisters school like Mount Holyoke, which has a very strong math program.