A growing body of research shows that diversity and inclusion can bolster a company’s bottom line through increased productivity, innovation, and the ability to attract higher performing candidates. For startups and emerging companies looking to scale quickly, a diverse, inclusive workplace can help take your business to the next level.

However, with fewer internal resources than the big corporations that have committed to DEI, startup leaders may feel at a disadvantage and not know where to begin. In this blog, we’ll share some startup-specific tips for cultivating an inclusive company culture that will help to attract and retain the top talent you need to keep your company thriving.

Related: 6 Ways to Attract and Hire Best-Fit Startup Talent

First Things First: Why DEI?

DEI must be more than a mantra, and data from LinkedIn underscores why:

Research also indicates that workers care about DEI and want to work for companies that share their support for these values:

Related: Women at Tech Startups: Breaking Down the Barriers

Embrace Diversity in Hiring

One of the most practical and important steps to create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion within your startup is embracing diversity in hiring. Partnering with a staffing agency like Viaduct can help you cast a wider net when sourcing candidates and give you access to more diverse talent pipelines and referral networks.

Startups should also be thoughtful about crafting job postings that are free from biased language, so that you can reach and speak to as many qualified candidates as possible. This means using language that is clear, objective, and free of stereotypes.

Related: How to Write a Successful Job Posting

Close the Pay Gap

Startup leaders should prioritize pay equity, which translates to fair, equal compensation for employees who perform the same level of work or hold similar jobs. Pay equity is essential to a healthy organizational culture and can improve productivity and morale, reduce employee turnover, and attract high-quality hires—all while protecting employers from discrimination lawsuits and legal troubles.

Best practices for ensuring pay equity, according to ADP, include:

Create an Environment Where All Employees Feel Heard

When you bring together people with diverse backgrounds, educations, and experiences, you’re queuing up a wider range of opinions and ideas. This can lead to greater creativity and innovation—and ultimately, better ideas!

Imagine troubleshooting with your team. and the five people sitting around the table are all individuals with the same socioeconomic background, who went to the same university, and whose previous work experiences were all very similar. Now, imagine the same strategy session with a group of people who come from different backgrounds, who have different degrees, educations, and past professional experiences. The discussions in the latter scenario may require more back-and-forth but, in the end, will provide a wider range of perspectives that can help you better understand all sides and potential solutions to a problem.

Simply put, an inclusive workplace—where a diverse group of people have a seat at the table—is essential to preventing blind spots and fostering a culture where different ideas are heard, considered, and respected.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve Team Communication at Your Startup

Develop a DEI Policy—and Enforce It!

Developing a DEI policy can help get your thoughts down on paper and ensure accountability across the organization. Mapping out specific actions that result in a better, more inclusive workplace culture can help set expectations among employees, paint a clearer picture of what DEI means to the company, and show what these values look like in action.

The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM)’s sample diversity, equity, and inclusion policy offers a few examples of what this can look like:

Of course, writing the policy is only part of the equation—you must also put it into action. Leaders should model the inclusive behavior they want their organization to adopt and hold employees accountable so that they do the same.

Changing, or Improving, Your Startup’s Culture Won’t Happen Overnight

Whether you’re starting from scratch, or just trying to do a better job of talking the talk and walking the walk, building a diverse and inclusive company culture isn’t something that will happen overnight. But by taking these first steps, you can help your organization become a place where candidates and employees of all backgrounds feel welcome and valued.

Related: 7 Ways AI Can Improve DEI&B at Your Startup

This blog was authored by Viaduct’s Managing Director Pete Petrella.

Founders and early startup employees know the feeling all too well.

An exciting project or campaign begins to take shape. Action items build, and then, suddenly, your task list is a mile long. You put your head down and your blinders up to get through the list. All of a sudden, the creative energy you’d normally apply to work on the business is being spent working in the business.

This is where outsourcing comes in.

No one knows or understands your product or service better than you and your team, and outsourcing can be met with understandable wariness.

But if you are reading this blog, it means you and your team are spread thin, you know you need help, but are not quite ready to bring on full-time help. It’s a critical place to be.

By outsourcing, you can rid yourself of repetitive or administrative tasks, keep your work model lean, reduce mistakes, free up your creative energy, and ultimately, scale properly.

Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Outsourcing is an extremely valuable tool accessible to founders and early startups. But just like most things, outsourcing has benefits and downsides to consider as you build your strategy.

Here are some upsides of outsourcing to consider:

Related: How to Recognize, Address, and Prevent Burnout at Your Startup

Like any business investment, there are risks associated with outsourcing. Keep the following downsides in mind:

Three Business Functions Your Startup Should Outsource
So what do you outsource first? Here’s what we recommend.


Tasks like payroll, accounting, and financial modeling and reporting should be outsourced to a firm or individual until your growth makes your financial structure more complex. At the start, your finances should be relatively straightforward to outsource.

In addition to taking this task off your plate, an additional benefit is the expertise a knowledgeable financial organizer can provide. They can take an objective approach to your financials, giving you accurate predictions for your growth and best practices for how to proceed.

Customer Service

As your product or service scales, you’ll experience a sharp increase in your customer service requests. Think refunds, exchanges, questions, concerns… you know how it goes. At the same time, customers have increasingly high expectations for how reachable their vendors and sellers should be.

The risk you run by attending to all customer service requests yourself is a bad Google review, poor word of mouth spreading, and your reputation destroyed by one small request left unchecked.

In fact, 94 percent of consumers say a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business.

Outsourcing your customer service to a trusted team can free you up to improve the product or service and keep your customers happy.


Even if you are not ready to hire full-time employees at a steady pace, you should still consider a long-term, established partnership with a recruiting agency with a deep understanding of your culture and a large pool of qualified candidates.

The process of finding, vetting, interviewing, and onboarding candidates is a huge commitment that few founders or HR teams can dedicate enough time to. Whether the positions you are looking to fill are full-time, part-time, fractional, or contingent, the right recruiting agency can bring you qualified candidates quickly, and familiarize them with your product or service and culture.

Need help?

Viaduct works with nationwide venture capital firms to design and integrate recruiting strategies for young, high-growth companies. They can help you build a qualified team that aligns with your organization’s mission.

Burnout has become something of a buzzword over the course of the last few years. The term is used most often in the context of the workplace, characterized by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced efficacy.

Workers everywhere have cited increased tendencies towards burnout: An Indeed survey showed 52 percent of workers feeling burned out, and 67 percent saying the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic.

These tendencies, however, tend to get worse in a startup environment. This is usually because in a startup, the amount of effort workers put in directly translates to the overall output of the business.

The pressures of a startup do not discriminate, affecting the young, old, c-level, and individual contributors. Although burnout is not a medical condition, its repercussions can manifest in the physical body: Think headaches, stomachaches/intestinal issues, fatigue, frequent illness, and changes in appetite/sleep.

Needless to say, burnout is serious, and it’s important for leadership to be able to recognize, address, and prevent burnout as part of their integrated day-to-day operation.

How to recognize burnout: What does burnout look like?

Your team might not always feel comfortable admitting that burnout has crept up on them. Startup employees are notoriously tough, and their dedication to their output might make it hard to decipher between “normal” work stress and something more serious.

The Brink, a publication by Boston University, says that burnout usually manifests in three ways:

  1. Energy depletion and exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization and cynicism
  3. Reduced efficacy

Energy depletion might look like one of your most lively employees not speaking up as much, showing up late or constantly tired, and citing trouble getting out of bed in the morning or dreading the week ahead on a Sunday night. It’s also an exhaustion that doesn’t go away after a vacation, no matter how long.

Depersonalization usually looks like a drastic shift of interest in their workload, totally detached from a pile-up of projects, and doubt that any of it will ever get done to their normal standard due to the sheer size of it.

Finally, reduced efficacy often looks like a lack of focus and a significant change in their normal output. Tasks they may have enjoyed may begin to seem like a source of fatigue and frustration, taking much more concentration than they used to.

In summary, when your high performers begin to disassociate from their workload for no apparent reason and struggle to engage with the rest of the team, this is often the first sign of burnout.

How to address burnout: What can leadership do about burnout?

Unfortunately, the nature of a startup often requires your team to wear many hats, and as much as you might want to reduce the workload, it’s simply not realistic. Offering more vacation time is not a solution either—employees might feel even more stressed coming back to a larger workload, or spend their vacation working because there is simply no stopping the startup train and it’s easier to stay caught up.

So, what can you do to address your burned-out team?

First, recognize that the acknowledgement of burnout is a top-down initiative. Leadership must be willing to accept that burnout is real, and needs to be addressed.

Next, make prioritization your number one priority. Often, at a startup, everything can feel like a priority, and your team might not know where to even begin. Make it your mission to lay out exactly what the top priorities are, structuring their workload so they know exactly what is critical, and what can be backlogged. The ability to structure a workload can restore a great deal of control in your team’s mind and day.

Finally, examine how your culture supports your team’s well-being. Does your benefit package actually address what’s most important to your team, or do you assume that the weekly pizza parties and happy hours are covering your bases? Does your team really thrive fully remote, or would the option of a more collaborative space increase their potency? This should be an ongoing examination, with feedback from your team driving the majority of your decision-making.

How to prevent burnout before it happens

In a perfect world, we would all be able to recognize and attend to our own exhaustion, and it would never have the chance to manifest. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to have that level of self-awareness. Here are ways to prevent burnout.

Encourage workers to take regular breaks and vacations: It’s important to take time away from work to rest and recharge. This can include taking a lunch break, going for a walk, or taking a vacation. Studies have shown that employees who take regular vacations are more productive and less likely to burn out.

Check-in with your employees: In addition to making sure your policies surrounding vacation time and work-life balance fit the needs of your individual team, the best thing you can do to prevent burnout is to engage in regular, meaningful 1:1s with your employees.

In these meetings, whether weekly, bi-weekly, or whatever works best for your team, don’t just check in on their projects and ask for status updates. Ask questions that speak to:

When these insights are shared with you, the key is to really listen and respond.

Set realistic goals and expectations: Startups often have a lot of ideas and projects in the works, but it’s important to prioritize and focus on the most important tasks. Employees should also be aware of their limitations and not take on more than they can handle.

Lead by example: It is also important for the management team to lead by example and promote a healthy work-life balance. You should ensure that employees have the support and resources they need to manage their stress and overall wellness. This can include providing mental health resources, flexible working hours, and encouraging employees to take time off when they need it.

This way, your employees will be supported in their workload, and you will be able to prevent burnout before it starts.

This blog was written by Viaduct’s Director of Recruiting and Business Operations Tom Hausler.

The demand for labor during today’s candidate-driven market is fierce and employers have had to adjust their hiring strategies to attract top talent. For startups, the process is even more challenging because you’re competing with well-known established organizations within your industry. So, what can you do to stand out and appear unique? Here are some ways to attract and hire talent that fits within your organizational culture.

1. Share your founding mission and vision

We all love a good story. If you can effectively communicate your organization’s unique evolution and runway to scale to job candidates, you will be more successful at attracting top talent. Where did the idea to form your company originate? What challenges did your founders overcome to get to where you are today? Most importantly—assuming “mission” success—what is your vision for 1, 3, and 5 years in the future? Share competitor information and your organization’s key differentiators. Millennials—the largest generation in the workforce—and Generation Z candidates are attracted to companies with a mission and vision that they can relate to and get excited about.

2. Give employees autonomy

Top startups have a unique energy that is evident within their company culture. Frequently this energy is rooted in the development of new products and services. Google has been recognized for allowing its employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on projects they personally feel are most beneficial to the company’s growth and success. To what extent do your company’s leaders support innovation and new ideas? Autonomy is a key driver of employee engagement. Giving employees the freedom to explore and share new ideas—that are not required to be implemented—is a positive step toward fostering autonomy. Throughout the hiring process, share examples of successful innovation that resulted from your employees’ ability to take ownership of their projects.   

3. Foster a culture of learning and development

Startups typically can’t afford expensive training programs—whether it be in person or online. Research shows that workers retain more than 75 percent of the information they learn through experiential learning—which occurs when an employee gains new skills and competencies through on-the-job experiences and challenges. Job rotation—when employees are moved between jobs within an organization—and job enlargement—when an employee remains in his or her existing role but takes on additional tasks and responsibilities that require training—foster skill development. Share examples of how your employees learn from one another through intentional collaboration such as job shadowing, informational interviews, and mastermind groups. Explain how you develop and leverage your employees’ abilities to foster success and illustrate how the role the candidate is interviewing for is integral to achieving the company’s growth objectives.

4. Structure positions around skills and strengths

It’s important to focus on the work that needs to be done within your organization—with demonstratable skills and learning agility—and stop focusing solely on experience and past job titles of job candidates. Transferable skills are competencies that a candidate has developed throughout his or her life that can “transfer” to a variety of different roles and industries. These skills may have been obtained in a previous job, during his or her education, or through hobbies or volunteer work. By molding position responsibilities around an individual’s skills and strengths, your organization can successfully hire top talent.

5. Build a competitive compensation strategy

Build a compensation strategy that accounts for equity-eligible positions and leverage it as a selling point to recruit top candidates. Startups often pay less than established organizations so it’s important to have a competitive compensation structure to share with candidates. Significant thought should go into your organizational approach to equity/stock allocation to ensure it’s advantageous to all stakeholders. Benchmarking data, best practices, and consultants with expertise in this area are available to help your leadership team navigate this process. Several important questions to get started include:

6. Capture employee referrals

Who understands your organizational culture better than your current employees? Use this to your advantage to identify top job candidates. According to CareerBuilder, 88 percent of employers rate employee referrals above all other sources for generated quality of new hires, and 82 percent rate them above all other sources for generating the best return of investment. Incentivize your employees monetarily—or with PTO days, volunteer days, or with a donation to their favorite charity—for introducing your hiring team to an individual that could be a good fit within your organization. The structure and communication around your referral program are important. Provide professional networking training to your employees to help them understand the makeup of their network and how to provide referrals. Then, make sure your employees are aware of open and upcoming positions. 


To stand out among candidates and differentiate your organization throughout the hiring process, communicate the overall experience your organization offers your employees. These six methods will help attract best-fit talent that shares your company’s mission, vision, and values. When aligned, you will be positioned for growth and success.