Four Steps For Advancing Diversity And Inclusion

January 10, 2018 | By: Jon Jackson

Contributed By: Emily Walsh, Vice President, Georgian Partners.

Diversity was a hot button issue for much of the tech world throughout 2017. Companies like Google, Uber, Apple and others regularly made headlines, showing us what can go wrong when organizations fail to make employee diversity and inclusion a priority. While last year it was important to bring these mistakes to light, this year we need to take action. Specifically, we need to stop viewing diversity and inclusion as risk-aversion strategies and start looking at them as drivers of real business value.

Research from McKinsey & Company shows the clear benefits of having both gender and ethnically diverse staff: Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their peers. Meanwhile companies with gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform. With compelling reasons like that, why have we made so little progress in expanding minority and female participation in the tech sector?

Venture-backed companies have a particularly poor track record when it comes to diversity. One potential reason is the outsized growth expectations placed on venture-backed startups. When hiring targets need to be met to fuel sales or product development, the decision to spend an extra week broadening the diversity of your candidate pool may seem like an impossible, or at the very least, non-essential task. Yet reframing the view that diversity is a “nice to have” into something that can drive long-term business value can help to reshape its prioritization in your corporate agenda.

At Georgian Partners, we have been thinking about these issues for some time. Understanding that both we and the companies that we work with are scaling quickly, we have focused on practical, easy-to-implement strategies that advance diversity and inclusion while preserving business velocity. Here’s what we’ve found works best so far:

1) Make diversity and inclusion core Board and C-level issues

Building teams of diverse thinkers who will challenge one another and help push a company forward is essential. It’s also far too important not to be factored into the highest levels of corporate decision-making. Not only that, without buy-in from the top, corporate diversity programs are much less likely to succeed.

As a simple first step in highlighting diversity at the top of your business, allocate 15 minutes to talk about diversity at each company board meeting or LP advisory meeting. For more ideas on how to expand on this simple step of leading diversity thinking from the top, see these great suggestions from DiversityInc.

2) Set measurable goals and track progress

Be analytical in your diversity efforts. Begin by tracking diversity in your organization today, and then set incremental goals that are ambitious but achievable. For example, if just 10 percent of your engineering team is currently female, set a goal of getting to 20 percent by the end of 2018. Track the progress of these initiatives for discussion at each board meeting.

At Georgian Partners, for example, we set a goal to have equal representation of female and male speakers at our 2017 portfolio conference. Setting this simple, measurable goal was critical to getting our team mobilized around a shared objective. Leading up to the conference, we discussed our progress toward this target at our Monday leadership meetings, as well as which strategies we were using and how effective each was.

Georgian Partners’ 2017 Portfolio Conference

3) Design a recruiting strategy that will identify and attract diverse top talent

As you move past measuring and goal-setting into designing broader diversity and inclusion processes, a natural starting point is expanding the diversity of your team. This includes everything that goes into your recruiting funnel, from employer branding to job descriptions, interviewing, and hiring and onboarding.

In exploring each area, think through the design of the system as opposed to the people conducting each process. For example, conducting a bias-free interview is much easier with standardized questions, multiple interviewers and scorecards. We have also found that simple goals, such as “build 50/50 gender representation into the pipeline for every job” are incredibly effective at building organizational diversity over time. Additionally, decisions like where to recruit can be as important as the tone of your job descriptions. In fact, more diverse candidates may be easier to connect with at specific events, such as the Can-Cwic engineering conference.

While setting up a new recruiting strategy system will take effort, in the long run the process will be much more efficient with standardized processes in place. For more information on design thinking in diversity issues, check out Iris Bohnet’s fantastic book, “What Works.”

4) Ensure you capture the benefits of diversity by building an inclusive team

All of your efforts to build a broadly representative team will be moot if the atmosphere at your company isn’t inclusive and built to make the most of the talented, creative people you bring in. Inclusivity is a broad, somewhat ephemeral topic, but here are a few simple starting points:

  • Communication. Train your employees to recognize and engage with different personality types. Consider meeting structures and whether they are designed to hear only the loudest voices in the room, and experiment with breakouts, brainstorming exercises and sharing materials in advance.
  • Company events. Are they all after work at the bar? Poll your team to see how they want to spend their time, and build a calendar of representative opportunities.
  • Promotions and raises. Women are much less likely to ask for a raise than men. To set a level playing field, design a promotion and comp structure that is performance-based and transparent, and track wage and promotion discrepancies across employee groups. Equal pay for everyone doing the same job at the same competency should be table stakes for all companies.
  • Build in a data-driven feedback loop. Survey your employees, conduct exit interviews, and improve over time. Is a particular group of people leaving the company more than others? Figure out why and build in a process to incorporate your learnings.

Heading into 2018, we can challenge our industry to incorporate diversity and inclusion activities as core drivers of business growth. Taking a data-driven, top-down approach, we can implement simple solutions and then test and improve over time. At Georgian, while we don’t have all the answers, we are excited to continue working towards what we believe is an imperative for all businesses. Part of this will include building a strong, supportive community that shares best practices. If you’d like to get in touch, email me here.


Contributed By: Emily Walsh, Vice President, Georgian Partners


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