How to Create a Startup Company Culture That Values Diversity and Inclusion

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:

  • Organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity have a 25 percent higher likelihood of financially outperforming their peers.
  • Organizations in the top quartile for ethnic diversity have a 36 percent higher likelihood of financially outperforming their peers.
  • Diverse companies earn 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee.
  • Inclusive teams are over 35 percent more productive.
  • Diverse teams make better decisions 87 percent of the time.

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

  • Employers that posted about diversity saw 26 percent more applications from women, compared to employers who posted less.
  • In a LinkedIn study, companies with a DEI team were 22 percent more likely to be seen as “an industry-leading company with high-caliber talent” and 12 percent more likely to be seen as an “inclusive workplace for people of diverse backgrounds.”
  • 76 percent of employees and job seekers said diversity was important when considering job offers.
  • 60 percent of employees want to hear business leaders speak up on diversity issues.
  • 80 percent of survey respondents said they want to work for a company that values DEI issues.

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:

  • Conducting market research on salary trends and compensation information on a regular basis.
  • Setting boundaries for salary negotiations that can put women and underrepresented groups at a disadvantage.
  • Basing raises and bonuses on performance and merit.

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:

  • Respectful communication and cooperation between all employees.
  • Teamwork and employee participation, permitting the representation of all groups and employee perspectives.
  • Work/life balance through flexible work schedules to accommodate employees’ varying needs.
  • Employer and employee contributions to the communities we serve to promote a greater understanding and respect for the diversity.

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.

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