Startup Diversity is Just the Beginning, Inclusivity is the Glue

This is the second installment of a three-part series providing insights and advice to help build more diverse and inclusive teams.

» Read part one and part two.

Hiring a diverse team is a great way to build racial and gender equity in your workplace — but it’s just the beginning. Next comes inclusion. This means, taking meaningful steps to create a community where voices are heard, employees feel welcomed, and advancement opportunities are open to all

Some startup leaders are moving so quickly that they ignore inclusivity. Others actively try to build inclusive cultures, but unconscious bias and blind spots hold them back. To ensure this doesn’t happen inside your company, be proactive, measure success, and focus on the details.

Those takeaways come from a LIVE@LIFT event featuring diversity and inclusion experts Rashaad Lambert, Director of Culture and Community at Forbes, Alicia Agnew, People Operations Manager at Guru, and Chris Anderson, Director of Community Learning and Love at Guru.

Moderated by Kendra Lee, Director of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Learning Portfolio for Comcast, the conversation outlined seven actions startup leaders and managers can take to be more inclusive.

  1. Help all employees feel welcome. It’s often said that diversity is akin to inviting everyone to a party. Inclusion is inviting everyone to dance. But Agnew thinks that comparison needs an update.

“Inclusion is actually inviting everyone to participate in the party in the way they want to participate,” she clarified. “Equity is when those most impacted by the party planning are actually involved in that planning.”

  1. Survey employees and act on feedback. Send anonymous surveys to learn how employees really feel about inclusivity in your workplace.

“Be transparent about the results and talk about how you plan to take action,” said Anderson. He added that experts outside your organization can help with training and informational sessions.

  1. Don’t just celebrate diversity because it’s Black History Month. Inclusion should be an ongoing initiative, not something to explore when it’s topical.

“There is a lot of diversity and inclusion talk around events like Black History Month or Kwanzaa,” said Lambert. But centering your efforts around specific timeframes or holidays may feel contrived. “Let people feel included all year round by making them part of decisions and part of the conversation,” he continued.

  1. Small actions create big outcomes. Who is asked to take notes consistently during meetings? Who is asked to speak at meetings? Who never seems to get the opportunity to join high-level discussions? Answering those questions might help you uncover bias in your organization that’s hiding in plain sight.

“The accumulation of those nuances and norms are part of the culture,” said Anderson. “If you’re not deliberate about it, individuals or groups may not have a sense of belonging.”

  1. Create employee resource groups. At Guru, Anderson and Agnew helped launch several employee resource groups, including one that empowers employees to lead conversations about systemic bias and take action.

“At Guru, Anderson and Agnew helped launch several employee resource groups, including one that empowers employees to lead conversations about systemic bias and take action.

  1. React to more than viral moments. Diversity and inclusion programs must be launched for the right reasons. If you’re simply reacting to headlines or viral videos, it may not work. To really succeed you need buy-in from top leaders and a commitment to get it done.

“It can’t be performative and can’t be reactive. It’s gotta be proactive,” said Lambert. “Companies are trying to show their support for the Black community, but where will this energy be a month from now? Where was this a month ago?”

  1. Find your blind spots. Think you’ve got diversity and inclusion solved because you’re supportive of the cause and your team seems happy? Work on finding blind spots.

“People have very different backgrounds and lived experiences that you as a founder, leader, or executive haven’t come into contact with. That’s a blind spot of yours,” said Anderson. “If you’re not aware enough to develop empathy and understanding around that, chances are that you’re going to have some missteps that make people feel left out.”

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