On June 22nd, Everwise co-hosted a panel discussion on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, along with Webb Investment Network. The panel featured Paula Green, Vice President of Human Resources at Twist Bioscience, Laura Gómez, Founder of Atipica and Cofounder of Project Include, and Laura Mather, Founder of Unitive.
Everwise CEO Mike Bergelson moderated the discussion, and facilitated questions from the audience of senior HR leaders from startups and venture capital in the Bay Area. The conversation kicked off with a discussion on the current state of how companies think about diversity and inclusion.
Mather made a business case for diversity, particularly when the market is fluctuating. During a downturn, it’s key for companies to sell to new markets, and having a diverse employee pool means it’s more likely your new market is represented within your workforce. Similarly, Green stressed the importance of having a team that reflects the market you are trying to serve.
Gómez explained that diversity doesn’t necessarily equate to inclusion. A company can be filled with people from all different backgrounds, but if it isn’t structured to make those individuals feel welcomed, then it doesn’t matter. Paula agreed, inclusion needs to come before diversifying a hiring pipeline; it has to be part of a company’s ethos and thinking, which starts with the leaders.
When asked how to integrate inclusion into your culture, Mather recommended defining culture by your values. Determine four or five values your company aspires to and determine how to integrate those values not only into your hiring process but also as part of your company policies. This extends culture beyond a shared “beer you drink” and opens it up to the values you want decisions to be judged against.
And when thinking about hiring, don’t incentivize sameness. Gómez recommends removing financial incentives from referrals. You should still want your amazing friend to join your company, without needing a four or five figure payout. And as Mather said, referrals lead to a culture of sameness.
For many in the room, intersectionality was a new concept. Intersectionality recognizes that every person associates themselves with dozens of labels, not just gender and race. For example, a white woman might also be a manager, a mother, a runner, an artist, a Canadian, and an advocate for literacy. She brings each of these aspects of herself with her to the office. And, it’s important to design programs that work for people across labels, rather than just one dimension of a person’s identity.
To solve for challenges in bias and exclusion, according to Mather, focus on the places where you can have the most impact. In HR, for example, hiring managers should disregard labels as much as possible. If you are a recruiter, you are looking to solve for hiring managers’ needs, so work with them to ensure they are focused on getting the candidate that fits the needs of the role, rather than labels or a culture fit that doesn’t tie into company values.
Just talking about differences respectfully lets others learn about the perspectives and backgrounds available at a company. One way Twist Bioscience does this in a delicious way is to have catered lunches represent different countries, and if someone is from the country of origin, they explain the meal. This opens up a discussion about background in an organic way, that lets employees learn about one another.
From Gómez, it’s important to not adhere to pattern matching when bringing people in to join your team. For example, look outside of your own alumni network to ensure not everyone went to the same school. When you have people from varied backgrounds come together, they will solve a problem differently, which ultimately benefits the work you are doing, especially at a startup.
An ally uses their position of power to advocate on behalf of someone who otherwise would not have an equal voice. The role of allies is key to the discussion of diversity and inclusion, according to Gómez. An ally should use their platform to help move the discussion forward. And it’s important to have them at the table. This is why Project Include incorporates CEOs and VCs into their work.
As companies and cultures shift their focus towards inclusion and diversity, it’s important to be ready to be uncomfortable. It will be hard, and it’s good to acknowledge the challenge and discomfort. Ultimately, however, it will get better and will benefit your company in the long run. As Gómez says, let’s focus less on rhetoric and more on action.