There's a lot of talk about D&I in tech. There's no shortage of stories about the rampant discrimination, toxic cultures, and the dismal representation in our companies.
But amidst the attention-grabbing headlines, many of us see this moment as what it really is: a wake up call, and an invitation to re-examine our own long-held beliefs about building teams, as well as about ourselves as leaders.
At least, that's what I've found in my work advising startups. Nothing quite energizes me like conversations with founders and leaders who are determined to get culture right – not just from a defensive stance, to avoid being the next Uber – but because it's the right thing to do. This new generation of company builders understands that investment in People & Culture, with a focus on D&I, is a key to building a team that they can be proud of in the long run.
Let's talk more about what we can all do, not just what to avoid.
About the author
I never expected to land in tech / Silicon Valley. I didn’t think I could belong here, but I was proven wrong. I now work to make similar opportunities accessible to others. Despite its faults, tech is an industry I love and I want to help make it better.
I created and led D&I strategy as employee #6 at Lever, a hiring software startup. Over 3.5 years, as Chief of Staff and Head of People, I helped grow the company to 150 and led initiatives that made Lever an authentically great place to work. A big part of that effort was co-founding the D&I Taskforce with an engineer colleague when Lever was just 10 employees; we were probably the smallest startup to do so at the time.
We started a grassroots effort and saw some incredible results, such as a 50/50 gender balance across the company. We also had significant representation of racial minorities, LGBTQ, caregivers, etc. But it's the Leveroos themselves, not the statistics, who can tell you about the energy and momentum of that time: What it looked like to incorporate D&I into everything you do as a team, what it felt like to be part to be part of conversations that you wouldn't have thought to be possible at in a "professional" setting.
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No part of our strategy was rocket science – much of it has been open-sourced! I think it's very much possible to re-create these kind of programs and results broadly.
The work is far more grassroots and easier to start than you might think. Don’t let the high expectations of “corporate” D&I intimidate you into inaction. As a first step, each of us needs to decide to approach org-building differently than it’s been done in the past. From there, startups can do what they do best: experiment and problem-solve in a scrappy way.
D&I work is nuanced and far from one-size-fits-all, so a lot of it comes down to your specific team and what you’re trying to accomplish. So giving D&I advice is complicated, but I can be honest about what I've seen work and the patterns among startups I work with. I hope to provide a forum for telling stories of success and just as important, failures from startups dedicated to this work. And that’s how we’ll make progress as an industry.
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