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When launching my business, I wanted to be intentional about our membership makeup and build a representative and complete talent ecosystem. I was certain the different perspectives and backgrounds this offered would help every entrepreneur reach further success. I wanted all entrepreneurs to feel welcome, included and that they had access to a safe space. At the time, I didn’t know of any studies or science to back up my feeling that it is important for the world to have diverse environments and true inclusion.
I’m happy to say, the science is in, and it shows diversity is not only better for the world; it’s better for the bottom line. According to a study on diversity in Venture Capital firms by the Harvard Business Review, diversity improves performance, as well as the overall return on investment of VC funds. Research has also found that the top quartile of gender and race diversity was more likely to return a profit above national industry medians. The bottom quartile was the opposite.
But why is this, and how can you reap these benefits in your own organization or workspace?
I believe the No. 1 reason diversity has significant benefits is that diverse groups are better equipped to think creatively in uncertain competitive environments. While diverse and non-diverse groups might come across as equally promising when the investment decision is made, the differences become clear when uncertainty and problems arise. Diverse groups are better equipped to handle these challenges because they have more perspectives, frames of reference and unique experiences to bring to the table.
Some might find it difficult to move the needle and become more diverse in their companies because they are drawn to people who are similar to themselves. For example, the same Harvard Business Review study found that venture capitalists are “far more likely” to partner with others of the same race or gender, as well as similar educational backgrounds and past employers. But in my opinion, this means that entrenched groups stay that way — entrenched.
So what can you do in your organization?
1. Incorporate diversity early.
It can be difficult to bring diversity into a homogeneous organization. In my experience, shared qualities often lead to shared opinions, and anyone with a differing opinion might want to avoid being singled out. If you’re able, start with prioritizing diversity as early as possible so that it’s built into the DNA of your operation. You can incorporate diversity in a number of ways, such as making it one of your company’s values and having staff attend diversity training. You can even try something as simple as bringing foods to work that are traditional in your culture and encouraging others to share foods and traditions they embrace as well.
2. Blind your bias.
Bias in hiring and pitching happens. In a pitching environment, a study found that men were often encouraged to show their potential for gains, while women were asked about their potential for losses.
While challenging to overcome, I believe it’s possible to help blind your bias. For example, having musicians audition behind screens has increased the percentage of women who make the cut for symphony orchestras. You can apply this concept to your business as well. Start by removing all name and pronoun data on applications by having an employee, who isn’t directly involved in the interview process, modify resumes and cover letters. A bonus blinder is to use a voice modulator to pull gender out of speech on a phone screening.
3. Be intentional.
It’s important that you are willing to recognize and address bias. Don’t pretend bias doesn’t exist. When ignored or denied, it simply furthers the problem. Consider addressing types of bias in team meetings. This shows that fighting bias is a value from the top, and it encourages your team to do the same. You can also try bringing in experts to do diversity and unconscious bias training.
4. Get out there.
For each of us, extensive social contact on an equal footing is a good strategy for lessening bias, and I believe this begins with being open to forming friendships with people from different backgrounds. Consider joining a club you’re interested in or supporting a cause you feel passionately about. Make these choices intentionally. You can even start small — ask friends and team members of varying backgrounds to share book recommendations.
From my perspective, all companies should try to explore and evaluate initiatives and opportunities to create a more diverse and inclusive space and culture. And those opportunities will expand and morph as more communities and enterprises make diversity a focus. But what I believe will never change is the need to be aware, be intentional and be visible in taking a stand for greater inclusion for the good of our businesses and our world.
April 16, 2019 at 08:10AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs