Building Inclusive Workplaces at the Start, A Guide for Startups

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This article was originally run in the Union Leader on August 14, 2023


Startups across various industries possess a unique advantage over established companies because they can build an inclusive workplace from scratch. By consciously prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), startups can set new industry standards and positively influence the broader business landscape. Research from McKinsey and Pew Research Center consistently shows that diverse organizations are more innovative, creative and have a competitive edge in tapping into new markets and meeting various client needs.

The following cautionary tale highlights the significance of diversity.  A former tech startup founder shared that a highly qualified female candidate rejected their job offer because the team was all male and lacked diversity. The lack of diversity in their organization made her feel uncomfortable. Startup companies must immediately prioritize hiring qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds, including people with disabilities, veterans, neurodivergent individuals, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and older workers. This inclusive approach should extend to internship and apprenticeship opportunities, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate and thrive.

Creating an inclusive culture intentionally means hiring a diverse workforce and utilizing diverse supply vendors and service providers. Embracing diversity at all company levels, from entry-level to the C-suite and the boardroom, ensures having different perspectives and experiences, which allows for innovation and creativity. One of the benefits for tech startups of having a diverse team is that it may capture the attention of socially responsible investors and stakeholders who value diversity and corporate social responsibility.

Startups must recognize that building an inclusive workplace requires ongoing commitment and effort. Prioritizing DEI from the outset, ensuring leadership buy-in, creating inclusive policies, and actively promoting a culture of respect and inclusion for all employees are critical steps. It is crucial to continuously drive the message that diversity is paramount to foster a culture of understanding, empathy, and appreciation of individual differences. A smaller team allows leadership to engage directly with employees to gauge their sentiments about the work culture. Research has shown that employees are more likely to leave an organization if it doesn’t align with their cultural values, even if another company offers the same pay.

Ensuring gender pay equality is another crucial aspect to address from the beginning of building your Startup. Startups must ensure that qualified individuals are compensated fairly. Implementing transparent pay practices and conducting regular pay audits can help identify and address any disparities and promote pay equity within the company. Implementing DEI data analytics early to understand areas of success and areas that need improvement is beneficial to creating long-term, sustainable, inclusive workplaces.

It’s crucial to remember that Startups must take tangible steps to foster inclusivity rather than perpetuate bias or discrimination. Simply stating a commitment to diversity is not enough; real change comes from actively implementing inclusive policies and practices. Take action. Say it, mean it, and then do it.

Furthermore, a clear business case justification for inclusive workplaces emerges from the increased litigation surrounding bias and discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has settled over $500 million in lawsuits related to workplace discrimination. As such, Startups must proactively address DEI concerns to avoid costly legal consequences.

So, how can Startups get help if they need it to create an inclusive workplace? Fortunately, New Hampshire offers many highly qualified nonprofit organizations like New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility, which provides excellent resources to help companies of all sizes create inclusive workplaces. Investing in such resources can lead to long-term benefits, such as improved employee satisfaction, reduced turnover, and increased productivity. Startups don’t have to spend millions creating an inclusive workplace. For example, the nonprofit organization New Hampshire Small Business Center offers a free DEI Ecourse called The Value of Implementing DEI in Your Small Business. 

Startups are uniquely positioned to build inclusive workplaces by having flexible and adaptable mindsets that allow them to be more receptive to embracing diversity. But they must do this from the outset, as the benefits are bountiful.

When startups intentionally design a culture of inclusivity, they attract top talent socially conscious investors and customers, drive innovation, increase revenue, retain talent, increase employee productivity and morale, and create a positive impact within their communities. 

This article was written by Flo Nicolas, Co-Founder/Chief Operating Officer, DEI Directive, Director, Producer, Editor & Creator, Get Tech Smart TV Show