Diverse and inclusive cultures: What are you waiting for?

I can’t say that I was shocked to read the recent Uber scandal from a female engineer, Susan Fowler. But, I was sad to see Uber’s CEO and Board say they were “shocked” by these allegations.  The actual quote from Uber CEO in an all staff email was “abhorrent and against everything we believe in.”

Too many tech startups hide behind a series of excuses about why discrimination and bias persist in their companies. A common excuse is "we grew so fast". Another is “I didn’t know this was happening.” The truth is - it is your job as the CEO/Management team/Board to know, especially as you expand the company beyond your core team. Who you hire, promote, and reward sets the tone for your company and actually demonstrates “what you believe in.” But most Management Teams and Boards aren’t asking the right questions and aren’t committing to changing their own diversity and inclusion practices.

As a collective group, those of us at tech startups aren’t doing very well. Our leadership teams, our Boards and our VC firms are all woefully un-diverse and the pace of change is inadequate by most standards. Creating an environment where a female engineer is harassed and her complaints are ignored my HR and management repeatedly is intolerable and we need to turn our shock and outrage into actions and concrete commitments to change.

Why is this problem so intractable? I believe the main issue is that Boards, VCs and Leadership teams aren’t holding themselves accountable. Enough is enough.

Here are 5 actions you can take right now to change what your future looks like as it relates to diversity and inclusion:

1. Know your diversity numbers

You cannot manage what you don’t measure. Let’s start measuring our numbers, across departments, before we become Google and Facebook. It is a quick chart, trended over time, of Gender and Race/Ethnicity by department. Add in attrition rates by those same demographics, because this can be an early warning sign that you haven’t created an inclusive culture where diverse people can thrive.

As you put your next Board packet together – put this slide in there and commit to having a conversation about it with your leadership/Board team.

Inspired by: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/diversity-in-tech/

2.   What training can we afford?

Commit some resources (stage appropriate) to provide training for your managers. If you are a 10 person company bootstrapping, you don’t have a lot of resources, I get it. But if you are a unicorn growing like a wildfire, you do. Divert 2% of your food/snacks budget to training for managers on a regular basis. Smaller staff = smaller training budgets. If you wait until you are Uber size, you better have bigger pockets. Lawyers and crisis management teams cost a whole lot more than trainers.

3.   What does our Team and Board makeup say about our commitment to diversity?

It starts at the top – Diversify your Leadership team and Board. Make every effort to recruit people of color and women into your company and into Leadership and Management positions.

You will be in good company – many other tech companies are vying for the same executives you are, so be prepared to woo them with your commitment to diversity, inclusion, what role they will play in helping you get there. Be honest about where you are and where you want to go and why you need them. 

One founder I know of a tech startup that had a successful exit says that if he had it to do over again, he would start with a diverse Leadership Team from the get go. Let’s not continue to make his mistake over and over again – if you are starting out or just at the onramp of your growth curve, make this one of your goals this quarter. You can’t expect to have a company that values diversity if you don’t have any diversity making decisions at the top.


4.   Do we truly believe that diversity is worth investing in?

A core problem with many of the Leaders and Boards and VCs today is they aren’t on diverse teams themselves. Silicon Valley Bank just released some new numbers for how many women are in VCs and on Management teams and the numbers are not great.

Here’s another diversity breakdown of top VC firms. If you look at these teams, it seems like diversity is a nice to have, not a business imperative. But it does matter and research is clear that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams on all measures of success. Remind yourself and your company of the business outcomes that come with diverse teams. Not sure what those are or don’t really believe them – educate yourself. It is well documented that diversity improves the bottom line.


5.   Can we afford to do nothing this quarter?

Maybe it doesn’t feel like the right time. For most of us in tech startups we live quarter to quarter with very little wiggle room to lose focus. I’ve been there (I am there today). If that feels like your story right now, do a thought experiment about what it is costing Uber right now in the eye of this storm.

Can you afford to be the next Uber or Tesla? Think you won’t be as stupid as Uber? Maybe not, but without a diverse team building and shipping your products, you might miss important market segments and features that are important to your customers. Remember when Apple launched the Apple Watch without a period tracker when a large share of their potential market would have a period in her lifetime?

Without diverse teams you can’t continually ship products that appeal to your customers, unless you sell only to bro-grammers.


Is this a turning point for the tech industry to focus more on diversity and inclusion? I don’t know, but I do know, each company can do a few things on a regular basis to make a big difference for their own culture and team and chances of success. What are you waiting for?

Need more ideas for what to do to tackle diversity and inclusion at your own startup?

Visit: http://projectinclude.org