StoriesNews & events25 August 20218 min

#StartitSavvy: why & how to put diversity & inclusion into action now

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There’s no question that diverse and inclusive companies rise to the top, innovate better and adapt more easily. Making this a reality is no easy feat, which is why at Start it @KBC we regularly engages our community in on the topic: for example during our workshop with ARC, a non-profit that leverages scientific research to impact the way people think about and take action on diversity and inclusion (D&I). Read on for our takeaways about how D&I can benefit your startup and pave the way for it:

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People make the company

Let’s take it back a few steps to remind you why diversity and inclusion is so essential to building a strong company. In this blog we explained how diversity strengthens your organisation and in this one how it makes your company more agile. Again, while diversity is about getting a range of backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and cultures on board, inclusion is about how your company values different contributions and perspectives, as we delved into in this blog. It’s all easier said than done. Not only do you need the right approach to attract a diverse workforce, it takes reflection and awareness to create a culture where people feel accepted as they are and free to share their thoughts and ideas. And where decision-making and management tracks are equally accessible to everyone.

It’s a major challenge for even the most progressive companies, which is why we invited Paulo Gaudiano and Toni Shoola of ARC to host a workshop on how to go about finding diverse talent and building a more inclusive and welcoming environment. Toni and Paulo pointed out that human resources are the number one budget item for companies, averaging about thirty times that spent on advertising. So it only makes sense to focus on optimising your human resources and how you can get a return on your investment.

If you wait, you are too late

It’s important to embrace D&I from the very beginning. Toni and Paulo hear from a lot of companies that they need to get in their new hires right away, and don’t have time to spend on D&I. Or they think they might worry about D&I later, when they have enough people on board. Big mistake, the duo say. Building a diverse and inclusive company from the bottom up should be on the top of the priority list. This is because who you have on the founding team and how diverse their networks are have a knock-on effect on the diversity of the team going forward, as they have seen from their research and simulations on the long-term impact of even slight differences in the diversity level of each founding member’s network.

Fixing it later by hiring for diversity doesn’t necessarily address the problem because it ignores the inclusion dynamics that impact people’s work experience. For example, hiring a woman into an all-male environment that isn’t sensitised to their needs can make the employee feel excluded, backfiring and costing the company in turnover costs and reputation. Any behaviours that cause people to feel excluded impacts the overall dynamic and performance of the entire company. Inclusion drives diversity because the way people are treated and how they feel about it impacts advancement and turnover, affecting productivity and shaping the workforce.

Walking the walk on D&I

So how can companies get down to work on diversity and inclusion? First of all, be aware that when you hire who you know, you run the risk of creating highly homogenous teams. That’s why ARC has a D&I toolkit to help identify and find individuals from underrepresented groups. The earlier you work on building a more diverse team, the better. Some concrete tips ARC shared are:

· Shape your visible diversity: make sure your website is accurately reflecting diversity. A lot of companies only show pictures of white men without even realising it. Maybe you only show the CEOs but not the rest of the team, so people don’t get an accurate view of how diverse you are. In any case, don’t try to fake it: people can see right through that, and it just makes things worse. Maybe you can reflect diversity on your other pages: events, social media shares, causes you support. Keep in mind that your digital presence has a significant impact on how people perceive you.

· Shape your visible inclusion: another thing to pay attention to is accessibility. Is your website easy to access for those who don’t have great vision? Make accessibility an important part of both your website and your products. Also use inclusive language. Watch out for “bro talk” about your fussball table and beer kegs that can exclude women and minorities. One very useful resource is Textio, which looks at texts and tells you if it contains negative tones for women.

· Think of it like marketing: word of mouth or site reviews on your inclusion level will come back to haunt you if people do not feel welcome in your organisation. Keep in mind that your actions speak louder than words. So don’t just talk the talk on your website or advertising. Your behaviour and how people experience their jobs matter most.

As Toni and Paulo say, inclusion is like health. We only notice it, when we don’t have it. What is problematic is that those who enjoy the most inclusion, are the ones least likely to be aware that exclusion exists. You can create awareness by paying attention to certain symptoms of exclusion such as learning and growth, work life balance, and compensation and benefits. These symptoms track everything from microaggressions to failing to respect work-life balance by contacting employees on weekends. By leveraging these types of resources, focusing on early hires and surrounding yourself and engaging with people of different backgrounds and life experiences, you can help close the gaps in your own awareness.

Ramping up D&I remotely

So how do you go about increasing your D&I quotient when people aren’t coming together face to face? There are a lot of ways companies can focus on inclusion even from a distance. First of all, you can recognise and support the unique needs of your remote workers:

· Maybe use some of the money you saved on travel and office costs towards making sure all your employees have a comfortable work environment.

· Also be sensitive to the fact that not everyone wants to be on video during meetings. Perhaps they have just gotten their children out the door and still have their pyjamas on, or share a space with other people or animals.

· Watch out for dominant personalities who talk too much during video meetings. Unlike in-person meetings, we don’t have the body language to signal to people that it’s time to hand over the mic. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak. Also create ways for people to interact with each other in an asynchronous way, like Slack or email.

· Make time for people to interact socially, for example by holding meetings where people can talk about anything else but work, or chatting about light topics on Slack. These are just some of many ways to engage your employees and make them feel included.

There is no easy one-size-fits-all solution to creating diversity and inclusion in companies. It takes hard work, but it’s completely worth it. Successful companies are built on everyone contributing to their maximum. This takes a top-level commitment and an understanding of how inclusion drives diversity and performance. Most of all, it takes realising the importance of investing in the most important part of your organisation: your people.

Start it @KBC is dedicated to cultivating diversity and inclusion, and looks forward to welcoming startups of all stripes in our next application round! Want to join a startup community that is dedicated to innovation for everyone? The deadline is September 20th, so don’t wait: apply now!