I feel like we've reached a point with the word diversity, where we kind of skip over it. We've heard the word so many times we may not even be attaching meaning to it, when there is plenty of meaning begging to be addressed. In fact, there are two major ways diversity, or a lack thereof, can kill your start-up and its funding dead in its tracks.
Let's Get Rid of the Buzzword Affect
We can do this by loosely defining what diversity means in business. When I use the word, it isn't only to point out gender, race, or sexual orientation. Diversity can refer to perspective, background, life experiences, generation, and so on. The reason it is so important to consider this is because this isn't some hippie-love-and-peace idea, this is our reality. We are a diverse nation and to be inclusionary is to be smart, because when your company is diverse in thought and in people, it is also diverse in products and in solutions.
Does a Lack of Diversity Really Hurt Business?
With that, let's talk about the two major ways a lack of diversity can hinder your bottom line and stall your success.
- Poor Recruiting: I recently attended a panel debate sponsored by Rising Media at the Frontier Tech Forum that captured so much of what I know to be true in the business world, and especially in the tech world. Diversity is something plenty of people talk about but few actually participate in. We have seen a bit of a backlash from business who say their diversity efforts have failed and what that tells us is that either the training is wrong or the follow-through isn't there. It's not enough to talk about diversity. You have to implement strategies, and act towards the goal of being inclusive for the success of your business, not because someone told you this is what you should do. In fact, this type of approach can actually cause more bias, rather than quelling it. Here's the other thing, hiring one diverse person to check that box isn't going to work, and I think we've proven this. Nobody wants to be that 'diversity hire' because right away, the culture surrounding them is not one they will openly participate in. "Diversity isn't a problem to solve, it's a strength to leverage. The benefits are better solutions, stronger teams, better products, and ultimately, more money," says Dr. Stephen Jones, a leading expert on organizational diversity. What we do know is this: without diversity, you are leaving money on the table. If you have reached a point in your business where bringing on talent is the next step, think about what you need to be the most you can be as a business. As Kate McAndrew - Investor at BOH & Founder of Women in Hardware aptly put it, "If your board room looks too much like you, you may eventually end up at an empty table."
- Weak Products: I have worked in product design for a long time and I've seen a lot of trends. But the one trend I haven't noticed is a design process that creates products geared towards an inclusionary end result. For example, most office chairs are designed for a large male. The arms of the chair are usually large as well, because they were designed for CEOs with secretaries and there was no need to get close to the desk. So when we designed a chair with flip-up arms, so you can get close to the desk, it was an easy sell. We put in an adjustable lumbar pillow because we know that men tend to like lumbar support around their kidneys, while women like it a little bit lower. It is a chair that appeals to both women and men. The process to create in this manner is one my design partner/husband and I came up with, and it's something we refer to as Genderblend Design. Genderblending changes how product development is done which can be difficult for businesses because it requires so much shift from the daily norm. The end result of a totally inclusionary and fully thought out product design is higher profitability and increased sales. I have written a number of articles over the years and lectured on why our Genderblend design process doesn't usually happen on a typical corporate design because raising the fact that you are a woman is a CLM, "career limiting move". There are some ways you can address your design process without bias, like having a diverse team (see above) who can offer differing valuable perspectives. At the end of the day, it's most important to take a good honest look at your product and completely understand who it is designed for, who it will appeal to, and what you can do to make it better. A weak product, that doesn't appeal to a diverse audience, will stop your start-up.
For all of the diversity talk, we've seen very little actual change, which means we aren't there yet. Diversity isn't just a new approach to tech or business, it is the reality of our business world and our future endeavors. Perhaps just the fact that diversity is continuing to be discussed and isn't categorically dismissed is a sign that at least in the tech frontier means it hasn't completely lost its meaning in the buzz.