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Diversity and Inclusion Strategies for Startups

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

The best way to build a diverse and inclusive business is to do it from the beginning.

  • In the workplace, diversity is when the employees of a business are reflective of society.
  • There are four main "dimensions" of diversity types: internal, external, organizational and world view.
  • Committing to actively promoting diversity and inclusion in your business shows that you are cognizant of their importance to your business, your employees and your industry.
  • This article is for startup founders who want to include a diversity and inclusion strategy as they build their business.

Diversity and inclusion are terms you're probably already familiar with. As discussions around systemic racism and the benefits of diversity in the workplace have increased, many business owners and entrepreneurs have asked how they can build a truly diverse organization.

As a startup owner, you're in an excellent position of being able to build a diverse and inclusive workplace from the ground up, without having to fix problematic or subpar past policies.

What is workplace diversity and inclusion?

In the workplace, diversity is when the employees of a business are reflective of society – i.e., there are people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ability, or sexual orientation, just as there are in the world outside of the business.

Diversity is not always something you can see or check a box for. Because humans are so complex and unique from each other, there are millions of ways to create a diverse workforce when you take into account things like cognitive abilities, personality traits, communication styles and experience.

The four types of diversity

In a business context, there are four main "dimensions" of diversity types: internal, external, organizational and world view.

  • Internal: Internal diversity types are things that a person is born as or cannot change, such as skin color, ethnicity, age and physical or mental ability. 
  • External: External diversity is anything related to a person that they are not born with but can be heavily controlled or influenced by that person. Examples of external diversity include interests, education, appearance, citizenship, family status, religion and geographic location. 
  • Organizational: Organizational diversity is related to the business or organization that you are part of, whether you work in a private, nonprofit or public sector. Organizational diversity includes things like job function, management status, work location, seniority or union affiliation. 
  • World view: World view pertains to anything that a person observes, feels or experiences that changes how they think and view the world around them. Examples include cultural events, politics, pop culture and history knowledge.

Inclusion

Inclusion is often tacked on alongside diversity, but it is very much its own concept. Inclusion is when a workplace treats all individuals fairly and respectfully, provides equal access to all opportunities and resources, and allows all individuals to contribute fully to the organization's success. [Read related article: Creating a Diversity and Inclusion Training Program]

Key takeaway: Diversity is the traits and characteristics that make people unique. Inclusion encompasses behaviors and policies that make employees feel welcome and valued.

Why are diversity and inclusion important?

When combined, diversity and inclusion can communicate a company's mission, strategies, and practices to support a diverse workplace, which in turn shape a positive work environment that attracts diverse talent.

And efforts to create a diverse workforce have been proven to benefit business: A 2017 Business Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams had innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than companies with below-average leadership diversity, and a 2018 report from Deloitte showed that millennials and Gen Z (who will make up the majority of the workforce by 2025) "correlate diversity with a forward-thinking mindset rather than the mechanical filling of quotas – viewing diversity as a tool for boosting both business and professional performance, especially when diversity is embedded in the senior management teams."

Committing to actively promoting diversity and inclusion in your business shows you are cognizant of their importance to your business, your employees, and your industry, all of which can increase employee engagement and improve your corporate culture.

Key takeaway: Millennials and Gen Z actively seek diverse companies and view them as more committed to innovation.

Why you should implement a diversity and inclusion strategy from the beginning

If you're starting a business, you're in the advantageous position of being able to start fresh, without having to undo past practices or policies that failed.

"It's very hard to change company culture once it's already been formed," said Ken Chester Jr., co-founder of WorkJustly. "I've worked with a variety of startups over the years and even these nascent companies have easily solidified their cultures within the first year or so."

Another benefit of implementing a strategy from the genesis of your business is that it enables you to embed it in the very fabric of what your organization is so that it is introduced as a main tenet to all new employees. This makes diversity and inclusion impossible to ignore or brush under the rug as time goes on, and it commands continued attention as needs and demands around diversity change over time.

It is also easy to get caught up in the myriad other things it takes to start a business and push off your diversity and inclusion strategy until you find yourself two years into running your business without implementing any strategy at all.

"Start early or you may never start," said Sean Higgins, CEO of BetterYou. "At my first company, we hired folks that looked and thought like us. The risk here is that you end up with a group of people that agrees with you too often and doesn't challenge ideas enough."

Key takeaway: Implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy from the start helps you avoid procrastination and ensures it remains an important tenet of your company.

How to develop a diverse and inclusive company

Including a diversity and inclusion strategy when you launch your company is a great way to underline its importance and ensure that the strategy gets the attention it needs for as long as your business is running. Here are six tips for implementing a strategy from the beginning that lasts.

1. Include it in your business plan.

If you're serious about wanting to include a diversity and inclusion plan from the start, one of the best ways to do that is to include it in your business plan. Here you can identify your diversity and inclusion goals and how you plan to achieve them.

2. Recruit candidates from outside your network.

Higgins said when looking for employees, it is simple to look at your LinkedIn page or go through your list of friends to round out your staff.

"What's not easy is looking at schools you never went to and posting your job [requisition], writing your job listing in a way that doesn't alienate a part of the market, or looking at people with skills outside the traditional path (military, resume gaps)," Higgins said.

3. Start from the top with inclusive leadership.

Since your business's leadership is the most visible part of your company and significantly influences your business as a whole, start by making sure your management team is made up of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, with different perspectives who all feel supported to speak up on all issues regarding the business.

4. Determine job candidates' perspectives on diversity during hiring.

Including questions on how a job candidate views diversity and inclusion in the interview process can help you create your ideal workplace culture around diversity measures. Ask whether the candidate views diversity strategies as a good thing and ask them how they might deal with opposing ideas or beliefs, or how they strive to create an inclusive culture in their interactions with co-workers.

5. Take action right away.

Rather than talking about quotas, or which workshops to attend, or whether you should have gender-neutral bathrooms, Allie Fleder, chief operating officer and founding team member of SimplyWise, suggests taking action.

 "I've seen so many companies that are well intentioned but have other priorities, and so the [diversity and inclusion] debates go by the wayside and result in inaction," Fleder said.

6. Design your staffing approach around diversity and inclusion

Sticking to the status quo of hiring won't get you anywhere – you're likely to end up stuck in the pipeline of resumes of those who followed traditional career paths or with candidates who have similar ways of thinking as you. Instead, you must build seeking diverse talent into your hiring practices.

"In our case, we made a deliberate effort to find engaged and hardworking staff from marginalized and disadvantaged communities," said Jessica Rose, CEO of Copper H2O.

Key takeaway: Building a diversity and inclusion strategy from the beginning means taking a new approach to staffing and incorporating it into your business plan.

Image Credit: LanaStock / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski,
Business News Daily Writer
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Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.