23 Apr 2014

Diversity is hard to get right, but it’s worth working at

By Glen

Diversity is hard to get right. Pitfalls involve the possibility of being patronising, disingenuous or even bigoted in your assumptions about how to attract particular people – and for those reasons many people prefer not to bother. But there is a lot of evidence that shows that, for societal, economic, or personal reasons, diverse teams are more resilient, adapt to change better,perform better economically, and are generally stronger.

For us at BGV it’s not just about better peformance, we are trying to leverage technology solve some of our toughest social challenges, and we know that without a diversity of founders we can’t hope to access most of those problems or the ingenuity needed to assuage them. The fact the tech world is so full of white middle class men, is why so much of it’s efforts have been directed towards solving the problems of that group of individuals to the deficit of the rest of us.

So we try to make a point to reach out beyond the usual suspects when seeking founders. We specifically want applications from women, minorities, and people who never thought they wanted to start a business, but they’ve just got this crazy idea. We even welcome those with firsts from top universities.

It’s easy to say, however, but also all to easy to drop it into a diversity statement and move on and forget about it. Here are some things we’re trying. We’d love to have your feedback.

1) Commit to it

You have to start somewhere. We’ve talked about diversity ourselves – last year we focussed on getting more applications from women, which has worked, to an extent. Some of our results in the next section.

In our opinion, and for our purposes, diversity means getting ‘beyond the usual suspects’. Not just those with the ‘right’ education, contacts, and resources, but anyone with the dream, passion, and raw ability to make a go of it.

2) Shout about it

We’ve been doing this for some time – going to women in tech events during our call for ideas and simply stating that we actively seek applications by women. This got us from about 13% applications by teams with a women founder to nearly 40%. It’s a start, but we know we’re still missing lots of great people. We’re working on it.

3) Challenge your own assumptions

This is where it starts to get difficult. Socioeconomic and cultural differences mean that you might need to explain yourself or listen longer in order to understand their approach. This is the part where you have to notice and deal with all sorts of unconscious biases – including realising that you have them,which isn’t always pretty.

4) It’s an ongoing process

It’s not enough just to bring people in, having a truly inclusive workplace involves an ongoing effort to adapt your company’s culture to the needs of people that work there. This can involve anything from ensuring more flexible working hours to shifting your language and habits to be more accommodating.

 

It’s not easy, but the rewards are manifold. What do you think? Tell us what we’re missing in the comments.