How to build an inclusive startup – and why it still matters

All right everybody We have one more session for you before Lunch as a quick reminder I'm sure you All just saw this but we do do q a there Are microphones out there so don't Forget to write your question down and Have it ready and we are running Auto Transcriptions throughout the day now Next up we are going to talk about how To build an inclusive startup which is Something that has fallen I would say a Little bit out of the conversation Lately lots of talk about burn rates law To talk about cash preservation but how To build a company that still works for Everybody remains a key topic so please Welcome to the stage Dominic Midori Davis from TechCrunch and Joelle from Paradigm Hello hi hello hello Hi hello thank you everyone for coming First I see you went to USC so fight on Fight on right on Um second Di has been in the news a lot Lately some executives are stepping down And overall it feels like there's been Kind of a retreat and companies focusing On this so I'm really interested to know How have you seen Um industry perception around Dei chains Since before and after 2020. Yeah I think we're definitely facing Some headwinds around Dei right now in Tech and in other Industries I think one

Is just the economic shift so I think The sort of Power Balance shifting from Employees back to employers and an Economic downturn means that you know in 2020 and 2021 when employees advocating For this meant employers had to take it Seriously because employees had a lot of Power I think as that power starts to Shift it means that employers kind of Start to show their actual values and What they actually care about I think You know another headwind is just sort Of Exhaustion or inertia as a result of Focusing so heavily on this for a few Years I think another is the Politization politicization of Dei where The term Dei is getting sort of grouped In with a bunch of other themes that are Really not at all what we're talking About when we talk about building Inclusive and Equitable organizations And then on the back of all of that came The affirmative action decision which I Think gave while it doesn't Governor Apply to companies at all I think it Gave companies who might already want to Be stepping back from this air cover to Do that and so you know I think what We're seeing right now is that Organizations that are it's sort of a Clarifying moment organizations that are And have been genuinely committed to Building more diverse more Equitable

More inclusive workforces are continuing Down that path are continuing to make Progress and those that might have not Ever genuinely cared about this uh have Sort of the air cover to step back Yeah I was going to ask you because We're seeing this play out or the Backlash Dei play out in the courts now And I want to know how far does this Influence stretch in terms of like Impacting companies who are really Looking to bring on a diverse Workforce I mean I think it's really scary to see What's happening in the court so I think The Fearless fund case if folks have Seen that where this group of Anti-progress activists that brought the Affirmative action case are suing a Venture capital firm in Atlanta who had A grant making program for black women Entrepreneurs and there's an amazing Legal brief in response to that lawsuit That if you haven't read yet I highly Recommend reading really making the case For why supporting black women Entrepreneurs is not only not Discriminatory it's both legal and in Kind of our Collective best interest Given what a tiny fraction of funding Black women get in kind of the Venture Capital world but I think that lawsuit There are two lawsuits now pending Against law firms for diversity programs Um and I think it is I think it is

Really scary and so but what I think we Shouldn't do is look at those lawsuits And say all right we're going to stop Everything I think companies need to Start to weigh their sort of Risk appetite against their values and Think about if we value Dei or even if We value building an effective company If we value contributing to a productive Economy then we actually do need to Consider to what it looks like to Attract a diverse set of employees to Build an inclusive culture all these Things but how do we do that in a way That kind of minimizes potential risk And I truly think that you know startups I've never worked with a startup that is Doing anything within its strategy that Even comes close to Running afoul of the Intent behind the affirmative action Decision so I think a lot of Organizations are far more worried about This than they should be given that Their efforts really you know are not Anything approaching affirmative action Right things like hey maybe we should Source from a wider candidate pool maybe We should build more Equitable practices So that bias isn't driving or hiring Outcomes maybe we should you know put in Place some benefits that support people From a range of backgrounds maybe we Should consider parental leave these are The types of things that I see startups

In particular thinking about at an early Stage and are not only extreme low risk But they're also very high reward things To do how early should a company start To map out its company culture plan as It continues to scale and grow yeah I Mean I think as early as possible as Early as you are more than a couple of People in a room and you're actually Like starting to hire Um I think culture matters quite a lot I Think inclusion matters quite a lot Um I remember we started working with uh Slack when they were about 75 employees Which is still quite big compared to a Lot of the folks kind of at early stages Of building but it was so much easier to Help them think about building great Culture and attracting and keeping a Diverse Workforce than it is companies That come to us when they are hundreds Or thousands or tens of thousands of People big because the earlier you embed Thoughts around culture inclusion into Just the DNA of your company the less That this becomes some initiative that You have to sort of orchestrate and Program around and the more that it just Becomes the way that you operate and People from a wider range of backgrounds Are just going to be motivated to join Your company what are some key policies That startup Founders maybe in the Audience today should look at

Implementing like maternity leave PTO as You know as as they're building yeah I Mean I think one thing is you know even Aside from policies thinking about your People and talent practices so companies Tend to be pretty Um bad at early stages at making sort of Rigorous decisions and because they're Moving so quickly right it's very easy To just go to your network recruit from Your network hire the person that like You like the most in the interview and It's tempting to tell yourself that That's a really good way to build Companies and build culture but all the Research in the world on human decision Making shows that that's a really bad Way to make decisions if what we want is To actually hire the best person to Actually you know promote the right People create healthy culture so I would Look at your processes how are we Actually being thoughtful about the way That we're evaluating people both Prospective candidates and people within Our culture and then as we think about Policies I think about yeah I think Companies generally are a little bit too Late when they start thinking about Parental leave when they start thinking About health care when they start Thinking about Um you know if they want to have some Kind of mental health support as part of

Their health care policies and these Things are not actually that hard to do Parental leave can obviously pose some Challenges to a really early stage Company but it poses far more challenges If you haven't thought about it right Because people still have babies people Still need to take time off but if you Haven't thought about it you haven't you Don't have any plans around it I I see That sort of catching startups off guard And making folks scramble and if you Just think about it proactively Communicated about it effectively Um it's far it's actually far more Easier to navigate and you'll have a Much easier time attracting a wider set Of people to your company yeah something I've always been curious about is you Know startups are notoriously Hard-working environments but it seems Like you know this next generation of Workers they really prize like mental Health and you know taking it a little Bit easier is there a way to strike a Balance in terms of you know having a Startup and having this fast-paced Environment while also prioritizing Employee Mental Health I mean I Prize mental health I believe in therapy It's a really important part of my life I also prize working really hard and I

Think if you want a startup to be Successful you're going to have to work Hard I think people that want like a Nine to five job are probably just Genuinely going to be happier in a Company that is more established because Startups are fighting for their life Every single day and I think it just Isn't the kind of environment that Really lends itself to having really Rigid boundaries which I know are Important for a lot of people and that's Valid and I think if that's the most Important thing to you there might be a Type of organization or role that is Just better suited to what you're Looking for in your life right now now I Don't think that that means we shouldn't Prioritize mental health that doesn't Mean we necessarily need to have Arbitrary rules that people are online From 7am to 9 00 p.m or always at their Phone so I work pretty hard and most of The people you know that I work with Work quite hard but we also think about How do we create an environment of Work-life integration and I think the Startups that we I've seen do this most Effectively are ones that just have sort Of fewer unspoken rules and more well Articulated policies like for example we Generally expect folks are going to be Online on these times we know you're Going to be working more than that but

These are the times we expect folks to Be available or in the office or Whatever it might be so we can Collaborate effectively we don't Micromanage time but we do expect high Output and this is what that looks like And so generally where I see them more Like unfairness start to come creep in Or bigger challenges around well-being Or mental health is when all of this is Just undefined and people are scrambling In a million different directions at Once without any Clarity I think the Other benefit of clarity is it helps People opt in or opt out to your Environment based on whether that is the Right fit for them and I don't think we Should hide the ball that startups Probably are not a nine to five Environment I think we should be clear About that I think that's okay I think It's also totally okay if that is not The right fit for everyone at this phase Of their career I wanted to go back a little bit to all Of this playing out in the courts Because a lot of the or a lot of the Legal attacks is against kind of the Language because they were like the Grants are really explicitly for black Women and you know the the law firm Stuff it was like explicitly for diverse Candidates and so I'm wondering for Founders who are looking to diversify

Their pipeline to get more of these Employees and workers how do you kind of Be less obvious in the fact that you're Trying to attract diverse people Yeah I mean I wouldn't do that for I Wouldn't prioritize that for any kind of Legal reason because these were Grant Making programs or Fellowship programs That had kind of money changing hands And that's not what we're doing in the Hiring process but I would say that I do See a lot of startups get this wrong They'll like go on LinkedIn and say like Uh we're hiring for this role and we Need more women so like would you come Apply no one wants to be reached out to Because they are a woman or because They're Latina or because they're Asian Or because they're black because they're LGBT part of the lgbtq community so what I would do is I would start to think how Do we cast a wide net to bring in people With identities from backgrounds with Experience sets that we don't have today But you don't have to tell each Candidate like oh we want someone that Didn't go to you know Stanford and so We're reaching out to you you don't you Don't have to say that you know in your Outreach to candidates I think just Talking about the type of culture you're Trying to build thinking about valuing People for The Unique perspective and Experience they bring and being specific

About that but then in your kind of Background efforts making sure that you Are reaching out to people from a really Wide range of backgrounds and then when You're communicating with people Candidates employees talking about that You value inclusion that you're trying To build a culture where people from all Backgrounds and with all identities can Be successful and can Thrive and can Share in the positive kind of experience That you're trying to build I think Being explicit about that is really Important especially if you're early Stage and like haven't quite nailed it Yet so I know a lot of companies are Like we can't really talk about Inclusion because we're not diverse yet It's like well if this is truly a value For you being explicit about that is one Of the ways you're if you're genuine You're going to attract people from a Wider set of backgrounds and keep the People that you do have and detract People who are going to be negative Contributors to that value because if We're not explicit about this a lot of People just might not care a whole lot About building inclusive cultures if you Do you might not want those people Joining your organization so it's Helpful to actually be clear about this If it is a value what are some other Common mistakes you see startup Founders

Make in terms of wanting to bring an Inclusive Workforce and then retain them Well I think the retained piece is a Common mistake I see a lot of companies Get you know relatively good at hiring People and then haven't thought about What does it look like to build a Culture where people from different Backgrounds can actually contribute Effectively and be successful so You know we know there's Decades of Research that show that diverse teams Are smarter they produce better outcomes They're more Innovative all these things That are actually pretty helpful for a Startup Um but only if we create a culture where People can collaborate effectively the Very difference that creates Innovation Comes from productive conflict from Allowing different opinions so if we Have a workplace culture where no one is Able to challenge a prevailing Norm no One is able to ask questions of the CEO That it doesn't matter how diverse the Team is you're not actually going to get Those benefits of diversity so thinking Just as much about culture if not more As you are thinking about recruiting and I think usually startups get that Backwards The other thing is making sure that if You're thinking about diversity you're Thinking about not just representation

Across your company but representation In different roles so it's not great if You have a 20 person company and you Have you know 18 white male Engineers But you have you know a marketing person Who's a woman or you know just someone On your sales team and that's the one Person of color you have you want to Think about representation across your Company and within roles and I think That that's something companies often Get wrong to they're like look we've got Women it's like that's your whole HR Team and nobody else and that doesn't Really create you're certainly not going To get the benefits of diversity and That can actually backfire too I also Want to say if anyone in the audience Has questions you can send up at the mic And we'll take them as we only have like Five minutes left yeah would love to Hear folks questions if people have them Um but so we've and we've recently been Seeing like a lot of Dei Executives step Down from a lot of these big companies Is that a role that startup Founders Should look at investing in I don't Think it's a role you need at an early Stage I think as an early stage founder You really need you are the owner of Culture just like you might not be Hiring an HR leader within your first 15 Employees or 20 you really need to think About owning culture and being

Accountable and responsible for the Experiences people have in your Organization I do think it's interesting Though this Dynamic of Dei leaders Stepping down it sometimes feels to me Like a little bit of a cognitive bias That we just notice that and are talking About it more than we're talking about Leaders in other roles stepping down or Changing roles a lot of the people that Have been in these roles that have been In the news for stepping down we're in Those roles for like four years and I Don't know what the average tenure is For a director or VP or even you know C-suite executive generally in Tech but Like four years to me is not really Newsworthy like someone's stepping down Even if we're seeing it happen in Multiple Fields I think what might be More newsworthy is this person's leaving Their role and it's not being backfilled And I think that is happening in some Companies but otherwise it seems like The kind of General pattern of talent Moving from one place to another and you Know people in Dei role should have as Much of a right to do that as anyone Else I will say I do think that this Role can produce burnout faster than a Lot of roles because of the level of Responsibility And accountability so a lot of companies Make the mistake of thinking that Dei

Leaders should be accountable for Outcomes when those leaders actually Don't control who every VP is hiring and What the culture is they are enablers of Those things but I shouldn't be held Accountable if our head of engineering Didn't hire anyone from a wide range of Backgrounds and hire any women last Quarter I didn't control those hiring Outcomes so that's a real challenge of This role and I do think that can lead Dei leaders to burn out you know faster Than other roles and I'll ask one more Before someone has a question remote Work is known to be very helpful for Marginalized communities but at the same Time there's been this massive push back Into the office and so how should Startup should startup Founders kind of Rethink that back to office strategy That is the question I don't I don't Know and I think it'll be I'm very Interested how like the future will look Back on this moment in history I love Remote work uh when the pandemic hit our Company leaned into being remote first I Have two young kids it's incredibly Valuable for me there's a lot of Research as you say that Um people from underrepresented racial And ethnic backgrounds uh uh uh have you Know reported experiencing far fewer Microaggressions and other barriers that Make being in a workplace sometimes more

Challenging I also think humans are not Meant to be in isolation and I think we Can see engagement suffer when we're Working remotely we can also see certain Biases like proximity bias and distance Bias actually escalate in fully remote Environments so while it might feel Better I don't know that the data are Clear yet that it actually is better for Outcomes like promotion rates and Compensation and you know growth into Leadership I think there I think it'll Be interesting to actually see if remote Work was In total better for people from Underrepresented marginalized groups but I think at the end of the day each Company is going to have to figure out An approach that works for the culture That you're trying to build and lean Into that and if you are kind of a Remote first environment really thinking About how do you mitigate against some Of those biases how do you build an Inclusive culture how do you stay Connected particularly to people from Underrepresented backgrounds who we know Are more likely to sort of Um uh be subject to those kind of types Of proximity and distance bias if you Have an in-person culture how do you be Thoughtful about the fact that people Have families that people might be Experiencing more microaggressions when

They come to work day to day how do you Create an environment that allows people To work in person together effectively I Think they're just different challenges And I don't think we know yet I don't Think the data are clear on what the Right answer is if there is one And we have an audience question yeah Can you hear me yeah nice I leave Engineering recruiting at a startup and Fortunately have buy-in from the the Founders to support this kind of thing But what advice would you give if you're Having trouble getting buy-in from Middle management Yeah I think it's really important to Tell the story of why this is important I think we lean off and very heavily on Data and there's tons of data to show That bright diverse teams are more Innovative more effective all these Things but I think it's also really Important to tell the story of what it Is that you're trying to do of the fact That if you ever get to scale then you Will need to be able to be a place That's attractive to people for from a Range of backgrounds and if you've got 20 30 Engineers that all look the same It's going to be very hard to hire that First person so if we're hoping to ever Build an effective company or a scaling Company we're gonna have to think now About getting more representation in the

Door I also think talking about how Getting a range of perspectives benefits You and kind of Designing and building Products and thinking about Dei less as An outcome in itself and more as a tool For helping you build an effective Company overall your product is not very Meaningful if nobody buys it right the Best ideas aren't very meaningful if you Can't really execute on them effectively So really making sure that you're Talking about why this matters and I Think telling the story also of the fact That Diversity equity and inclusion they Actually benefit everybody so it's not Just saying hey guys we want to bring in More people who don't look like you that Doesn't feel so great but hey we want to Bring in people that are going to enable Us all to do our best work that are Going to unlock Innovation here we want To build a culture that allows all of us To thrive we want to be thinking about How we build a culture that scales into The future so really talking about the Impact that you're trying to achieve Through this and I think the shorthand If we just want to bring in more people From backgrounds different than yours it Can make sense when the conversation Lands like that that people don't feel So great about it so really reminding People of the outcomes that you're

Trying to drive cool thank you yeah And we have another audience question Yeah I know that a lot of organizations Are struggling with layoff decisions how Does diversity play a role in that yeah I think organizations uh need to think Just as much about representation in Downsizing as they do in hiring what We've seen over the past couple of years Is that in the past year in particular Is that layoffs in Tech have had a Disproportionately negative impact on Women and on people of color and so Really making sure that as you're Thinking about downsizing your team if You are in that position you're thinking About the impact that that would have on Representation the impact that will have On culture Um similarly with you know and I know It's a lot of earlier stage folks in Here Acquisitions thinking about Acquisitions that also affects the Representation of your team so thinking Broadly about all of the things that Affect who's represented in your Organization and how different decisions You make are going to impact diversity And impact people's perceptions of what Your company values thank you thank you And I guess my last question is how can Companies fight back against those who Are trying to make Dei harder to achieve I think really doing a better job

Talking about why this is important to You and not shying away from talking About this I think if we all stop Talking about this sort of the Overton Window on the expectation that this is a Part of corporate culture and a part of Tech culture and a part of startup Culture shifts in a way that I think Will set us back a couple of decades so For the folks in this room if this is Something that you care about being the Champions that talk about this when You're in meetings talking about it with Middle management advocating for it Talking about it with your peers at Other companies talking about why this Is important Um I'm very worried that if we stop Talking about this uh we're gonna as the Pendulum swings back to people wanting To see this more in companies and Employees having more power all the Companies that sort of paused on this Are gonna have a very hard time Attracting and retaining and building Effective companies so I would say keep Talking about it now and you'll be in a Much better position Mission as the kind Of cultural Focus inevitably as it Always does shifts back to this Conversation And thank you so much for coming today That is all we have time for but we will Be continuing this in the TC plus Lounge

I believe so thank you again for coming Thanks Tom thank you all [Applause]


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