A guide to diversity, equity and inclusivity for your startup

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    Apart from the excitement of creating a new product or service, startup entrepreneurs also have the opportunity to design and build a new business culture from the ground up.

    A viable approach to diversity, equity and Inclusivity (DEI) for a startup firm is more than simply scaling down the procedures used by larger organisations. It demands a new strategy that is more agile and adaptive.

    Putting equity for startup rules in place at the start of a company’s life will go a long way toward overcoming the biases that underrepresented groups confront throughout the hiring process and the barriers placed in their path once they are hired.

    This blog will examine the measures that a startup can take to consider DEI while creating a business actively.

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    What is DEI?


    It refers to how people differ, including visible and less evident differences.

    It includes race and ethnicity, gender, cultural background, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and life experiences. These differences influence our perspectives and shape who we are as individuals.

    It takes planning to hire a diverse workforce but having one will help you discover blind spots and design a product that appeals to a broader audience.


    It involves creating an organisational culture where people are free to be themselves and bring their unique perspectives to the table.

    They are respected and welcomed, particularly if they disagree with the majority.

    Inclusion is critical, especially in a diverse workforce, because it ensures that everyone is heard and can participate regardless of their background.


    It refers to working toward equal treatment, access, and opportunity for all people by attempting to identify and remove structural or individual obstacles that prohibit groups and individuals from fully participating and engaging in society.

    Recognising and resolving institutional and environmental systems of injustice and unequal distribution of resources and opportunity is part of improving equity. It means establishing fair and equitable processes in the workplace, removing barriers that make it difficult for individuals to work with you, and ensuring that you develop a product that does not perpetuate bias and inequality.

    With the above definitions in mind, here’s how to make DEI a priority for your startup with straightforward steps.

    1. Decide what you want to care about DEI

    For a founder, deciding how to operate your firm and how DEI fits into that vision is personal. As a founder, many things are competing for your attention right now. What role does DEI play among them as a priority? It must be a deliberate decision, as it will not occur naturally.

    There are many structural obstacles to a diverse and equitable organisation emerging organically. It takes a conscious commitment to make DEI a priority and commit time and resources.

    So, to make this conscious decision, consider the following questions:

    • What kind of organisation do you want to start?
    • What type of business are you proud to put your name on?
    • What sort of relationship do you want to have with your workers?
    • What kind of global influence do you want your product to have?

    You don’t need to compose a complete vision statement; all you need to do is consider these questions regarding DEI and be on the same page as your company’s other leaders.

    2.  Build your culture purposefully by role modelling inclusion

    There’s a common belief that employing a diverse workforce is the most crucial aspect of DEI for companies (often, startups focus their efforts on hiring women).

    Yes, having a diverse team is critical, but gender diversity is just one part. The more significant and immediate opportunity for startups is focusing on an inclusive culture from the start.

    The creators and leadership team play a critical role in deliberately creating this culture.

    First and foremost, it’s essential to consider how inclusion, bias, and equity fit into a workplace culture. Take some time to learn more about how bias affects our decision-making.

    Also, try understanding how our identities have made life easier or more challenging for us. It doesn’t matter who your founding team is when it comes to role-modelling behaviour; you have the power to establish the company’s culture and acceptable behaviour.

    You must take deliberate steps to demonstrate inclusive conduct. Small businesses are a close-knit community. Whether they are doing it purposefully or not, the founders are already role models. Employees naturally look up to the founders. It’s an excellent opportunity to acknowledge that responsibility and put the qualities of DEI in your firm.

    3.  Ensure equal opportunity in the employment process and take steps to eliminate bias

    In this regard, equality of opportunity ensures that diverse applicants are fairly represented at all stages of the talent pipeline, including the final step.

    For example, Setting targets for each stage of the pipeline aiming for 50% women candidates and 30% minorities ethnic candidates at the first round of interviews, and ensuring at least two or more varied candidates at the last stage, is one way to ensure equality of opportunity.

    You have to create interview panels as diverse as possible regarding ethnicity and gender and hold calibration meetings before the interviews to ensure that the interview team is aligned on hiring criteria to avoid individual bias influencing decision-making.

    4.  Put fair and transparent policies and processes in place

    Start recording your HR and employee processes, including recruiting, promotion, benefits, holidays, and harassment, even if it sounds early. Otherwise, as your firm grows, many unplanned decisions are made with no regard for transparency.

    It is how bias sneaks in. These procedures don’t have to be overly complicated; you can summarise some of them on a single page.

    Here are a few things to consider when it comes to processes and policies:

    • Ensure that all job descriptions are clear to the individual and their coworkers. It’s fine if they change over time, but keep track of them.
    • For employment purposes, keep track of how an application is evaluated, selected interview candidates, and what the interview process comprises. Make sure there’s a transparent process for deciding who gets hired.
    • Have a planned range for salary and other forms of compensation for each role, and tie the position within the range to the role’s qualifications. Determine how other rewards, such as stock, will be divided fairly among recruits.
    • Ensure that a mechanism for receiving harassment allegations is communicated to a responsible person who is not a leadership team member. Have a procedure in place for investigating these allegations.

    5.   Create inclusive office spaces

    If you insist on having an office as the centre of your business operations, make it as inclusive as practical. Make it wheelchair accessible; if it isn’t already, make a promise to include it in your next office space, and look for nearby events locations with wheelchair access.

    Create a ‘silent room’ if possible. You can utilise it for various things, including breastfeeding, prayer, and meditation. If this is not viable in your current setup, or you do not need it, for now, create an action plan for when the need arises.

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      6.  Introduce flexible work policies

      Flexible working has become a significant asset for firms aiming to hire more diversely and develop a more inclusive culture in the last 18 months. Startups that set up flexible or work-from-home arrangements can employ people who are more suited for remote jobs (either because of geography or other commitments).

      You might also implement a ‘Core Hours’ policy, allowing employees to change their arrival and leaving timings while still working on a set schedule (e.g. 10 am to 4 pm). Outside of core hours, you should enforce a no-meetings-without-request policy.

      7.  Conduct equal pay analysis

      Conducting an audit of total compensation for persons working at the same level is the first step toward addressing gender and ethnicity pay discrepancies across your organisation. It will allow you to see any inconsistencies.

      You can also compare this to industry-wide salary to see whether there are any pay disparities on a systemic level.

      8.  Conduct culture surveys and hold retrospectives

      To acquire an accurate view of the culture and working environment, you have to conduct regular surveys to measure your employees’ experiences. Even small businesses with two or three employees should incorporate the practice into their culture.

      By doing these surveys every quarter, you’ll be able to track your success over time, both against industry benchmarks and against your own goals.

      Holding retrospectives with all team members, especially minorities or underrepresented talent, ensures that you understand existing issues. You can meaningfully consult and listen to their views on how to improve.

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      Final thoughts

      The core of a business’s culture boils down to policies introduced that foster diversity, equity and inclusion into the business’ DNA. For leaders, introducing DEI policies and practices will help avoid the often awkward and timely method of retrofitting your business, revealing past patterns of underprivileged minority groups.

      Making the intentional choice that DEI is a priority for you and your organisation is the key to a successful DEI strategy for startups. Consult professionals and peers for advice on best practices as you start on this path. Also, keep an open mind to learn new things and view feedback as an opportunity to improve.

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