The feel-good guide to diversity in tech

Why startups should embrace diversity for a happier, more successful business.

After an autumn of #metoo and strings of sexual harassment stories from across industries, the discussion around diversity and inclusion is back in our news feeds once again. On the one hand, I’m fully behind the discussions that are going on, and I agree we need to talk about the depressing recent stats around diversity in tech, and stand behind the people who’ve bravely brought to light their own stories. On the other - and I know I’m not alone in this - I’m finishing up my last week of work for 2017 and preparing for the holidays. So my two cents on #TechTalksDiversity are here to make you smile.

 

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Where I work, our team couldn’t be more diverse. Our UK-based startup has a female CTO, a 40:60 ratio of women to men and 7 nationalities across our team of 20 - not to mention a number of parents juggling flexible work and toddlers, and an age range of 35 years. That’s about as diverse as it gets.

What do we get out of it? While it may not be the only way to achieve this, I think the differences in how each of us perceives the world nurtures a level of flexibility and creativity that every startup needs.

Diversity for innovation

While there are thousands of ‘soft benefits’ to embracing and promoting diversity in the workplace, I’ll count down my top five of the more tangible ones:

5. Attracting top talent

A Danish survey by Stepstone found that 60% of respondents aged 30-50 say it’s ‘important’ or ‘very important’ that their workplace be diverse and inclusive. Make diversity a priority to attract a larger and higher quality talent pool.

4. Greater understanding of customers & markets

There’s a 2013 Harvard Business Review article which states that companies with what they call 2-dimensional diversity are 70% more likely to report capturing a new market than ones without it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that more diverse teams will likely be better able to understand their diverse and dynamic customer base. (Read more about 2-dimensional diversity - it’s a concept that will make even the straight white male feel included).

3. Higher engagement

In companies where diversity and inclusion are openly embraced, employees are much more likely to feel engaged with their work.

2. Better performance

Leadership with higher diversity and cultural intelligence increases the likelihood of financial success. A study from Gallup found that “The combination of employee engagement and gender diversity resulted in 46% to 58% higher financial performance”.

1. Increased creativity, innovation and productivity

Something we’ve talked a lot about at vyn is the importance of embracing cognitive dissonance as a positive driver for change. That feeling of discomfort you get when a situation or a person challenges something you believe to be true. For example, you might believe you’ve created a truly excellent product. Then a customer, or a colleague, tells you otherwise. In a startup, you have to embrace cognitive dissonance, learn from it with open curiosity, and adapt.

“Dissonance and discord may be less pleasant to experience and more difficult to manage than harmony and consonance, but they are far more likely to provide fertile ground for creative breakthroughs.”

- Suzi McAlpine on Idealog.

The topic of diversity as a driver for innovation and creativity is widely discussed, not just by HBR but also Forbes, CIPHR, and CIO.com. Melinda Gates is encouraging venture capitalists to start prioritising diversity in their investment decisions.

Innovation for diversity

I didn’t just flip the words in the sub-header around to look savvy - there really are some innovative ways of embracing and promoting diversity.

The way that our co-founders built our culture, aside from utilising their already diverse networks, is by actively recruiting from untapped resources: These include often-ignored groups such as mothers returning to work and semi-retired veterans with decades of experience across industries. Ultimately, as our CEO Kapil says, what we look for is to hire “individual talent, but with the bigger picture in mind” - people with differing perspectives, opinions and experiences, to build a culture where everyone has a voice and there’s always room to challenge and complement others’ opinions with one’s own.

I am only one person. What can I do? I can share my perspective, and encourage each one of you to get proactive in embracing diversity in your own life.