5 Ways To Build Diverse Teams

5 ways to build diversity into startup teamsI’ve had the pleasure of working for companies “as diverse as the United Nations” during my career. These organizations have greatly benefited from having very diverse teams and are doing well even in this horrid downturn. Why is diversity important?

  1. Customers are diverse, so varied teams are much more likely to understand what your customers really want.
  2. Teams with a diverse demographic makeup will have different ideas, broader viewpoints, and a more diverse experience base – this is a sure formula for better decisions.

So, it is no surprise that I get the following question from time to time: how do you build a diverse team?

Let me start with the #1 rule for building a diverse team: as a leader (founder, CEO, etc) you should always keep your personal religious, political, and other beliefs to yourself. I worked for a company where one founder was a devout Catholic and the other was not a fan of organized religion. If you never asked, you never would have known. It worked well, because we had almost every demographic group represented in the company.

#2. Let diversity happen. You can’t force diversity in your organization by selecting people like M&Ms in a candy store: some green, some brown, some red, some yellow, some blue. That is not diversity that is “diversiwashing”.

#3. Diversity starts during your selection process. You must judge people based on their skills, ability to learn, and fit in the organization. If you want to use tests for these characteristics, then use only the ones that will not stifle diversity (cognitive and technical skills tests). Predictive Index, Devine Inventory, and many other tests that predict your personality based on word associations (or other language-based methods) are very bad for your company if you want any kind of diversity. There is a reason why sales people for PI, DI, etc, will never provide you with real peer-reviewed scientific studies and demographics used to evaluate these studies.

#4. Let your team vet the candidate, but don’t let them make final decisions on fit. As a leader of a company, you are entrusted with the vision and the path. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned teams will pick people just like them. Other times they will not be able to see how that person could be a great fit, but you know he/she will.

#5. Celebrate and educate! I am always a big fan of introducing policies that include at least X days per year for “personal reasons” and letting people work during holidays they may not be celebrating.  Example: everyone gets Independence Day and New Years off, but if you don’t celebrate Christmas, why should I force you to take a day off? On the subject of celebrations, always look for ways to include everyone. If it is Chinese New Year, why not congratulate your team members who celebrate it!  Another thing I like to do (since I am a foodie), is to bring my team together through food.  Have a company lunch where everyone brings their favorite dish, with bonus points for something most restaurants don’t serve, and extra bonus points if no one ever tried it before.

In my experience, it is never too early or too late to make sure you are thinking about diversity.  You can be a 9 or 120+ person startup and still be diverse.

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski

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