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Seven ways to improve diversity in your startup

Friday, 8 January 2016 | By Cyan Ta'eed

If you're going to make real change within your startup, everyone needs to be clear about what problem you're trying to solve and why it's worthwhile.


At Envato, we've found the easiest way to do this is to make sure everyone understands the realities of unconscious bias and its effects - once people see the research, they usually want to minimise their unconscious bias and act fairly.


For managers, that might look like ensuring their hiring process is fair or they're being objective and thorough when considering who gets a promotion. For team members it might look like making sure they plan activities with their colleagues that are inclusive, or they're not unconsciously making comments that alienate certain team members.


Or it might look like none of that - the important thing about this topic is that it is not something to be lumped with HR and then mostly forgotten about. Everyone - especially managers - needs to be and looking for ways to make a startup more inclusive.


And if someone comes to you with an idea, try your best to support them. Our best initiatives have come from team members who see something they want to change or make better.


On a more practical note, here are some easy, low cost things startups can do to improve diversity and inclusion.


1. Ensure your job ads appeal to diverse applicants


Tools like Textio review your job ads and tell you if you're using language that appeals to only one type of demographic. Our job ads used to use terms like "coding ninja" and "superstar". We shifted our wording and we got more diverse candidates. We also say that we value diversity in our job ads - we get more diverse people and more people who care about diversity.

2. Make sure you have diverse people interviewing


Try your best to have diverse people interviewing. Before we had our first female developer we would ensure there was at least one woman involved in the interview process - in our case from our product team.


I know some startups have no women in them at all, and that is a toughie. If that's the case, you need to be transparent but also commit to them as an organisation that you will support them. Finding a senior woman in a non-technical role can be a good place to start if you're not having any luck with non-technical roles.


3. Make sure events are inclusive

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you work with. Going out for a big night with the team may be a lot of fun for most of the team, but in some cases a woman might not want to go out drinking with a big group of men, or someone might not want to participate for religious reasons. If every one of your team-building exercises is unconsciously geared towards the dominant demographic you might exclude some who can't participate.


Make sure you have a mix of team building or celebratory events, and make sure everyone gets a chance to participate.


4. Don't hire people just because they remind you of yourself


Make sure you don't unconsciously hire people because they remind you of you. You have to really think through the reasons you like or don't like candidates. Some of them will be valid and some won't. Try to have at least two people making the hiring decisions so you can debate reasoning and ensure you're making objective decisions.


5. Start turning up to diverse events


If you aren't getting diverse candidates, keep an eye out for events in your field that cater to diverse groups or are particularly inclusive, and just show up. I have seen many a male at female tech events and plenty of straight people show up to Envato's LGBTI in Tech events. You'll learn more about the issues, get to know the community and people will notice and apply.

6. Talk about it


Talk about this stuff with your team and make sure everyone understands it's a priority. We can shy away from talking about this stuff because it's a bit uncomfortable, but sometimes the best thing you can do is say to your team is: "I really want to get some diverse people into our team. If you know anyone, please encourage them to apply."

This sends a clear signal which can lead to all sorts of smaller decisions that have a cumulative effect.


7. Start doing stuff

There is a lot of talking going on, and while it is important, it is also really important to just get out there and start trying stuff. We're all trying to figure out how to become more diverse and inclusive as organisations - there's no formula. So we all need to put our thinking caps on, try stuff, and report back.


Startups are savvy, innovative and really good at solving problems - apply that to addressing diversity in your startup and you'll really be on to something.


Cyan Ta’eed is the co-founder and executive director of Envato.