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This article was published on January 30, 2017

4 ways to make your tech startup more diverse

4 ways to make your tech startup more diverse
Nishu Thukral
Story by

Nishu Thukral

Nishu is an innovator and leader in the payments industry with over 15 years of experience as an operator, investor, advisor, and entreprene Nishu is an innovator and leader in the payments industry with over 15 years of experience as an operator, investor, advisor, and entrepreneur. He is currently CEO of Pangea Money Transfer, a Chicago-based startup disrupting the international mobile money remittance industry.

Check any tech company’s ‘About Us’ page and you’ll likely see diversity highlighted as a pillar of the company culture. Today, it’s no secret there’s incredible value in having differences in gender, race, sexual preference, age and background on a team.

Companies are stronger when different ideas come together, and studies show non-homogenous groups have a better balance of leadership skills.

But building a multicultural team goes beyond touting it on the website or employing various recruitment strategies – it’s grounded in putting a structure in place that allows specific individuals and communities to thrive, making your company somewhere they want to work and stay.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn’t claim to strive for inclusion, but there’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

Here are some tips for building a framework that bolsters diversity and creates a welcoming environment for people of all walks of life.

Educate, educate, educate 

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of formal diversity training, but one thing is certain; ignorance isn’t bliss.

Education is a critical tool that helps curb falling back on stereotypes or making assumptions about different people or cultures. When employees have a better understanding of what a special religious or cultural holiday means for a coworker, they’re more likely to be accommodating and supportive.

As an organization, having knowledge about these types of events can help shape company culture and work schedules.

Ramadan serves as a timely example. For thirty days, Muslims worldwide observed a month of fasting for their holy month. For followers of Islam, Ramadan marks an incredibly important time in their faith, and organizations need to take note, and action.

Before Ramadan begins, it’s a good idea for leadership to communicate the importance of the holiday to all staff, highlighting the company’s willingness to be flexible around schedules, and being mindful of the holiday’s restrictions. For instance, it would be best to avoid hosting a big lunch party during Ramadan, as it would alienate some team members.

Keep communication lines open 

Bringing together people with different beliefs and backgrounds has its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh them. Still, “the potential for misalignment or different expectations goes up exponentially when you have people coming from different cultural backgrounds,” said consultant David Livermore, founder of Cultural Intelligence Center and author of Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity.

Cultivating a company culture that emphasizes open communication and discussion is crucial. Companies need to go above and beyond to ensure people feel supported by leadership and the larger organization by implementing a structure that lends itself to honest communication.

There are a million ways to affirm your company’s commitment to unbridled communication. A few easily-implementable approaches include organizing regular “town hall” meetings where employees are encouraged to speak up, scheduling one-on-one discussions or planning an event like a Tedx Talk night where staff can get together, learn and converse.

Whatever it may be, asserting the organization’s dedication to creating an open forum through action inspires people to come forward and speak openly.

Hire for values, not quotas 

Tech doesn’t have the best track record with diversity, and unfortunately, things aren’t improving fast enough.

A recent report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found among the total employed at top Silicon Valley tech companies, 47 percent were white, 30 percent were female, 41 percent were Asian American, six percent were Hispanic, and a paltry three percent were black.

Clearly, something has to give, but rather than rely on set quotas, companies should chase a variety of life experiences.

When a company weaves diversity tightly into its genetic makeup, there’s no need for quotas. Instead, because inclusion is fundamental to the organization’s ethos, hiring managers will pursue candidates who bring something new to the table. For example, rather than recruit from the same school or source new talent from competitors, hiring managers can identify the skillsets they are looking for and seek out unconventional contenders with different backgrounds.

As an organization, when you champion diversity of thought, it breaks open the recruitment and hiring processes. This allows hiring managers to focus on what’s important: finding people who genuinely align with the company’s attitudes and beliefs.

Be flexible 

Building a foundational structure around diversity can start small. For example, it can be as simple as implementing a favorable parental leave policy, but it can’t end there. Companies need to offer a flexible environment that accommodates people in all phases of life.

Managers should be ready and willing to acknowledge and understand the varying needs of individual employees. For one employee, that can mean providing a private, accessible pumping room. For another, it can mean operating on a flexible work schedule that accounts for religious or cultural holidays like Ramadan, Yom Kippur or Diwali.

For an employee with a sick family member, they may require the ability to work remotely or on a different day or schedule.

By offering these perks employees can see the company is working to make things as convenient as possible for them. As a result, employees feel more welcome and valued – increasing the likelihood they’ll stay at the company.

As an international money transfer platform, multiculturalism is in our DNA, but whatever industry you’re in, understanding different points of view and including all kinds of people only adds value to your organization. Still, it’s not as simple as branding your company a “melting pot.”

Be sure to take it one step further and set a foundational structure that enables people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable and excel at what they do.

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