4 Things Startups Should Keep in Mind When Seeking Diversity


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It’s no secret that companies in the tech sector have struggled to establish diversity among their employees. Reports show that the majority of tech workers are white males, and the disparity is especially stark when it comes to gender.

But diversity is important. It brings an infusion of different perspectives to the table and helps avoid the complacency and passivity of groupthink. But while diversity is undoubtedly an important endeavor, problems can arise when it comes at the expense of the organization. This is especially true in the case of startups, where every advantage must be taken to succeed.

Individuals from all walks of life may have the skills and talent to help your startup succeed. Just make sure that, in those crucial early stages, you’re hiring the best people for the job — not bringing in diversity solely for diversity’s sake.

Getting the Most Out of Every Hire

For a large company like Facebook or Google, committing the time and resources to hiring a highly diverse team provides a number of benefits. For startups, however, this strategy might not be the best way to go. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Your wants might not fulfill your needs. When you’re looking for people to bolster your team, you might have a long wish list of things you wantpertaining to their skill sets, backgrounds, personal traits, and so forth, but as a startup, you need to be considering what you need above all else

The survival of your startup depends on its ability to hit certain goals, and you need teammates who are capable of achieving them. During the early stages of growth, nothing else matters. Once you’ve satisfied your needs, you have the flexibility to start looking for your wants.

  1. Cash is key. Seeking diversity comes at a cost. It’s important to spend time and energy on finding recruits with the specific skills your startup needs today simply because you can’t afford anything else. Spending time and money on anything but the best contributor can endanger your success.
  2. The wrong kind of diversity won’t help your business. When Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, wanted more diversity on her board to help bolster monetary policy, she began seeking a new female member. While this would have diversified the group in terms of gender, she still searched for a candidate with the same education, background, and skill sets as the existing members.

Gender in itself won’t help monetary policy. As a startup, the diversity you should be seeking involves differences in experience, knowledge, thinking, backgrounds, leadership qualities, and even age. Once you’ve covered those points, you can move on to other considerations.

  1. Your hands aren’t tied. As a startup, you might not haveto hire a diverse team if the right candidates aren’t available. Per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, diversity rules only apply to companies with more than 15 employees. So during your early, small-team stages, you can focus solely on hiring the best candidates possible — whoever they may be.

Diversity laws are designed to bring companies within the demographics of the general population, but that structure might not suit your company’s goals. As a startup, your aim needs to be tailoring your company’s “population” to the attainment of those goals.

Attaining the Right Diversity

Seeking diversity in the productive sense — such as skill sets, experience, potential, personality, and attitude — provides the foundation for growth. While a variety of faces may achieve this same goal, it’s a candidate’s talents and attitude — not his or her appearance or group identity — that should be your primary consideration.

Once your business has grown, go ahead and build diversity into your team in as many ways as you can. Not only is it the legal and ethical choice, but as a larger company, you’ll have more to gain, too.

Early on, it makes sense to seek the kind of diversity that helps drive your success. Diversity drives innovation and allows you to identify mistakes early on. But there’s a difference between productive diversity and political diversity. Productive diversity contributes to your bottom line, whereas political diversity may subtract from it. Widen your scope, and hire politically recognized diverse employees when you can afford it.

About the author: Per Bylund

Per Bylund is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. His areas of research are entrepreneurship, management, and economic organization.

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