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Tech Founders: 10 Signs You’re “Too Late”​ to Start Working On Diversity

Startup founders often wait until growing to 50 (or 300!) employees before they start working seriously on diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or belonging.

This is like waiting to get legal advice until you are big enough to hire a full-time in-house Counsel.

Similarly, asking employees to form a Law Committee – instead of bringing in an actual lawyer is clearly a set-up for failure.. But that’s exactly what happens with diversity.

You ask your passionate – but likely not seasoned DEI strategy experts – employees to do it for you “on the side” of their real jobs…

Ten Signs Your Company is (Beyond) Ready for DEI Help:

If you’re like most of my smaller startup clients, you’re not ready to hire a full-time Chief Diversity Officer, but you can still set your company up for success in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or belonging department.

  1. You know you could be doing more, but aren’t sure what. Trust your gut. If looking around at your leadership meetings gives you “White Lotus” vibes, it’s time.
  2. You’re troubled by your hiring trends. Founders: You don’t need my 10 signs. You need to know that if you keep growing at your current gender ratio and racial makeup, you’re going to be a company of 300 (300,000?) with a super-majority of whites/males. Reminder: homogeneity in race/gender breeds flawed decisionsmediocre ideashazardous risk-taking, and lower earnings, to name a few downsides.
  3. Your women (or woman) in engineering are the “only” on their team. Which is a retention risk. Because while engineering can be stressful for all genders, being the only woman (or POC, let alone a woman of Color) puts the individual at additional risk for discrimination such as gender bullying and being overlooked for promotions. 
  4. You don’t want to make mistakes, so you’ve hesitated. Let me guess: you’ve felt the urge to do something, but you’ve stopped short since a) you’re hella busy running a company and b) corporate diversity isn’t your primary expertise (and it’s sooo #cancelculture to get something wrong these days). (It’s fine: outsource it!)
  5. You don’t have an official DEI plan or targets. You wouldn’t just “wing it” with any other business imperative, like expanding to Mexico or creating a version of your product for the Gen Z market. You need targets and a roadmap to get you there.
  6. Employees you want to retain are talking about diversity. Millennials and Gen Z folks especially are avoiding exclusive workplaces. They find new jobs when their workplaces won’t do anything (effective) to bring in and retain colleagues of all Colors, genders, and orientations. 
  7. Your top ranks are nearly all men who are white. (Or Asian. And probably your buddies. And maybe all from Stanford. Or MIT. Or a previous company.) Let’s be honest: negative publicity and lawsuits more often come from a homogeneous work culture that’s left unattended.
  8. You have 10% or fewer Black/Latinx/Indigenous employees. Or 15% or anything less than the local population. Or the one you serve. (It’s all quite cringey in 2021.) Anyone who has read even one business article in the last 20 years knows that gender and racial diversity are proven to be great for business: For ProductivityReduction in Biased Products. Net Profit Margin. Financial Performance.
  9. You’ve recently lost a POC/woman employee. This stings. And is a clear sign. When you work so hard to expand your pipeline, you may as well make sure you can retain your hard-won under-represented employees. 
  10. You made a bunch of promises in 2020, but… Look, it’s not ideal – tech founders have innumerable funding, product, and talent fires in the oven. But, it’s (past) time to move forward on those promises.

This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn, and was published here with permission.

Emily Meghan Morrow Howe

Emily Meghan Morrow Howe

Femily (aka Emily Meghan Morrow Howe) is Silicon Valley's Gender/Equity Advisor. She is a management consultant and public speaker on gender in tech and other male-majority industries. She often speaks on and writes about how "good guys" can be great allies as well as allyship across all diversities.

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