Even if you missed the bus early on, it's never too late for workforce diversity

Even if you missed the bus early on, it's never too late for workforce diversity

Friday November 03, 2017,

4 min Read

If diversity and inclusion policies are anything to go by, employers have begun to see the recent benefits of workforce diversity. While large organizations have this down, at least on paper, startups are struggling to maintain the diversity agenda. And it starts at the top. Women founded a mere 3 % of funded startups in 2016, only 14 % of Indian businesses are led by women and only 9 % of all startups are led or founded by women. Gender discrimination at the funding stage, socio-cultural biases and generations of conditioning, and under-representation of women in the field of technology add to the discrimination. That is where the vicious cycle of gender disparity really starts.

That being said, the good news is that even as the ecosystem struggles with matters such as women and minority founders, glass ceilings, and more, startups honestly see themselves as the purveyors of change in the industry. They are edgier, cooler, more agile, and much more open to fresh ideas and perspectives. Often, the lack of diversity in their workforce could just be circumstantial and not necessarily deliberate.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Perhaps the biggest challenge that startups face is how to enable diversity when their priorities are seemingly more nuanced - than the gender and religion of their workforce! What founders need to remember is that the DNA, once set, will be hard to change. They are building not just a product but also a legacy and a brand, which will be a job creation powerhouse for the community. Not an easy task, but the power to do it right lies with them.

Founders need to remember the business case for diversity and inclusion from day 1. If you missed the early bird bus, then you can always start now. Here is a primer on how to get there:

Identify and acknowledge the problem

Dig deep into the nuances of your leadership team. Who holds the centre of power? Who has the power to hire and fire? Who makes the most money? Who makes the most crucial decisions? If your answer sounds strangely insular – all men, all majority – you have your problem right there. You did not realize that your biases were coming into play but here we are!

If that is not enough, ask someone to take a quick look at your “About Us” section on the website. Are minorities and women represented at all? Or does it look like an old boys' club? If your women leaders are invisible and non-existent, chances are that that is already a deterrent for more women to join your workforce.

Start the change at the very top.

Avoid the clichés

If you don’t want intelligent millennials to see through the lip service that diversity policies can often be, try to avoid gender-based hiring clichés. HR, marketing, community management for women, finance, product and innovation for the men – even marriages don’t work like that anymore! If your company does, you might want to reconsider your choices. To quote Justin Trudeau, "it is 2017, you know?"

By hiring individuals to play gender roles at work, you are contributing to the gender disparity problem rather than resolving it. Diversity adds to every team and function – there is enough research to support the cause. If you want true innovation and creativity, scratch the surface and measure your diversity ratios in each team instead of the organization as a whole.

Only skills should matter

Look out for biases in your job descriptions, candidate sourcing, screening and more. Be watchful of your hiring managers’ reasons to accept and reject candidates. Ask for detailed descriptions of their reasoning and ensure that the only criterion for hiring is skill. That is the only way for you to ensure that you are not approaching inclusion and diversity as charity but addressing it as a business need.

Effective diversity and inclusion measures are good for business, revenue, and reputation. But the narrative around it needs to change. As a founder, when you relate your organization’s diversity and inclusion policy to your workforce, you must communicate the business benefits too. Don’t position it as a charitable or feel-good cause because it is so much more than that. It is perhaps the only way to make workplace diversity and inclusion a business imperative for startups just as much as it is for Fortune 500 companies. Remember, it is never too early or too late to fight the good fight and bring in the good change.

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