What Growth-Stage Startups Do to Diversify Inclusion

While I posted last week about startups in early stages investing in diversity, inclusion and equity, much of what I see in the ecosystem for belonging and equity are happening further along the path. Building inclusive workforces, which is essential for many startups in growth stages, are just as important as driving customer growth.

Peoplism was founded by Amber Madison and Liz Kofman–Burns in 2012. They didn’t know what companies were most open to the idea of sustainable and long-term work. They’ve realized that growth-stage startups offer the best opportunities for creating more equal workplaces. They have unique insight into the conditions that must exist for fast-growing startups to create inclusive and diverse cultures.

While executive buy-in is important, D&I requires a collaborative effort.

Many companies see diversity, equity, and inclusion as something that is nice to have, but Everlaw considers DEI an essential component of their company’s strategy.

Everlaw started working with Peoplism starting in Fall 2019 and formulated their year-one roadmap just before Peoplism’s Series B raise. Everlaw, which was founded in Fall 2019, has seen a significant increase in its workforce from just 200 to more than 300 since the announcement of their $62 million Series C co-led with CapitalG and Menlo Ventures.

Renita Sandosham, Everlaw’s Senior Director for People Operations, stated that “our philosophy is grounded in driving outcomes using intentional processes.” She also said that it was clear that these processes were needed across all our practices, including how we recruit, train, nurture, and retain talent. We wanted to gather the leaders functionally responsible for forming strategy and keeping an operational eye on things.

Executive buy-in increases D&I opportunities within the company and ensures adequate resource allocation to support long-term success.

Peoplism’s Kofman Burns says that D&I strategy must be owned by the top, just like other business functions. You need to have people who can actually implement the strategy, and be accountable for its results. Not unpaid volunteers.

ERGs, affinity groups, or people who are underrepresented are often tapped to lead a company’s D&I efforts. However, burnout can be common due to the emotional work these volunteers have to do simply because they are the most involved in the job. To create more equal dynamics in the often-frustrating process of building cultures of belonging, executives must make sure they are assigning paid full-time work hours.

2. There is no magic bullet. Instead, invest in a strategy.

Madison stated that a one-hour training session is not going to be enough. Madison stated that there is no magic bullet for attracting diverse workers and keeping them.

Nurx is a startup that specializes in home and birth control. They took the responsibility of creating a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging roadmap. This was in contrast to many other peers who weren’t keen on a complete strategy. In August 2019, Nurx was co-led jointly by Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures and Peoplism by raising a $32million Series C. Lori Medeiros (Nurx’s Vice President of People) reached out to Peoplism to discuss a comprehensive, strategic approach to D&I.

Nurx is involved in D&I projects across talent acquisition and performance management. They report quarterly on the progress of their initiatives to the company. The constant resistance they have to finding the right solutions is one of the greatest pain points for D&I leaders.

Madison said that it is common for HR executives to believe that setting up an unconscious bias training program, creating a volunteer committee or finding the right recruiting software will solve problems. They quickly discover that it doesn’t work and most companies decide to invest in D&I instead of building a strategy with concrete actions.

Avoiding the trap of trying to find a solution for all culture issues, entrepreneurs and startup founders can give long-term, sustainable value to creating inclusive, diverse and equitable cultures. Like marketing or finance, there’s no single “mission accomplished.” Instead, it is a series of actions and strategies that produce meaningful results over the course of time.

3. Strategie needs to have goals that are meaningful.

Kofman Burns stated, “Having a complete strategy means having clear goals and a plan.” It’s more than throwing spaghetti at the wall. “It’s not about throwing spaghetti at the wall. It’s asking, “Does every initiative we work on help us drive a clear goal forward?”

Without clear objectives and benchmarks, even with the support of senior executives, accountability, and a plan in place things could go wrong. Madison pointed out that many people working in startup environments aren’t used to setting D&I goals in the same way as they set them for revenue, user growth, or customer retention. It’s important that everyone feels they can achieve the goals. This will help prevent burnout, and keep everyone on the same page about why they are doing this work.

Everlaw’s Sandosham said, “We sought to collaborate closely with a DEI consultant that could advise us on a sustainable framework for approaching DEI holistically over a long-term.” We wanted a partner that would be open to understanding our culture, and who could support and challenge us.

“The DEI roadmap goals were embedded in our OKRs, tactical plans and people teams. The people teams held themselves accountable for their progress. Sandosham concluded that each quarter, our CEO AJ updates the company on progress with roadmaps in an All Hands meeting.

Many startups were prompted by the events of 2020, which sparked them to look for solutions that would promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their businesses. It is evident that startup leaders can access the necessary tools to create inclusive cultures by looking at the best practices of Everlaw and Nurx. Beyond virtue signaling, the real question is: Will startups be able to commit and use these tools?

Inc.com columnsists’ opinions are not the views of Inc.com.

Publiated at Thu 29 July 2021, 08:29.36 +0000

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