Eight Free Ways to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Startup

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It’s easy to avoid investing in diversity and inclusion, especially as a startup founder who’s pulled in dozens of directions. It’s easy to avoid conversations about diversity and inclusion. And it’s downright simple to punt responsibility to the budgets and resources of the tech giants, and hope that the results trickle down to startups.

But excuses won’t cut it anymore. Being intentional about diversity and inclusion doesn’t have to cost a dime. There’s just one catch: your actions have to match your sentiments. Diversity and inclusion aren’t about committees or meeting numbers. A leader who wants to improve diversity has to make it priority in everything his company does.

Multiple studies show that building a diverse and inclusive team yields a better business return, in addition to being the right thing to do for a community, city, and industry. James Loduca, Director of Equality at Salesforce, recently said it best: “People succeed when they can bring their full authentic self to work.”

That’s what top tech talent wants: to join teams that allow them to be their authentic selves. Approximately 47 percent of Millennials surveyed believed that diversity and inclusion are criteria they look for in a company. To recruit top talent, startups can affect the changes necessary to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives, and can do so with limited budgets. Running a startup is very similar to raising a child: it usually takes years to see the results of your efforts. Every decision you make early on--whether in investment or parenting--results in a longer-term effect. And in parenting and investment, time goes by faster than you think.

But just as good parents conjure time and energy from thin air to properly raise a child, tech companies must also carve out the time and space to create a culture that welcomes all team members. Time is money, and our burn rate constantly reminds me that there’s only so much money available to recruit and retain employees while building the company. So it’s a classic challenge of short- vs. long-term thinking: by committing to diversity early, our company--our customers and investors--will grow to be stronger in the long term.

Indianapolis is currently one of the most attractive cities in the country for tech talent: its proximity to other big cities, a low cost of living and a fertile ground of startups offer opportunity for a variety of talented candidates. But the best talent is still hard to find, and recruiting candidates from underrepresented groups is an even bigger challenge. Still, being intentional about diversity and inclusion doesn’t require huge budgets, HR specialists or programs our burn rate can’t afford. By making an investment of time, we’ve found ways to attack the challenge and get some meaningful results. Below are just a few.

1. Make diversity and inclusion your core values. At Quantifi, we want to “build a company that represents the country.” We share our core values with prospective employees, during our weekly company meetings, and with every customer and investor on our website.

2. Measure your progress. We’re wary of quotas, but we do measure our diversity and inclusion commitment with self-reported data on a regular basis.

3. Get out into the world. Our team is tasked with attending one meetup per month, and encouraged to get uncomfortable by getting outside their network. This works!

4. Show up for new-to-you events. Attending diversity-focused and women-focused tech events shows that you care (note: asking the organizer for permission to attend is a recommended courtesy). To expand beyond my network, I recently attended two Girl Develop It meetups, a Linking Indy Women meetup and hosted a panel at the inaugural Disrupt Indy event.

5. Listen. That’s it.

6. Confront bias. I take free trainings like those offered by Salesforce Trailhead on becoming an equality ally and making a plan for diversity and inclusion.

7. Use technology. Sometimes we don’t even know that unconscious bias exists. Encourage your teams to examine their biases using technology solutions like Textio, Kat gender decoder or other solutions.

8. Be patient but persistent. I’ve learned that everyone is learning along the way. But confronting new challenges is no excuse for inaction.

The problem of diversity and inclusion in tech isn’t an easy one to solve, but it’s up to us to offer solutions. Our demographics are changing, and if we want to build successful and formidable companies, the tech community has to change as well. Time is a precious commodity, but investing it in exploring your role in diversity and inclusion is just the first step. It’s a step we all have to take.

R.J. Talyor is chief executive officer of Quantifi.

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