Moving forward

We have covered a lot of ground, and now we get to the hardest part. What should a CEO actually do to start? How do you tailor and implement a diversity plan for your startup?

Figure out where you are: How much diversity is in the company, in each function, in leadership, on each team? How much inclusivity is in the culture and the company? Run an employee survey, and measure rough diversity metrics. Assign someone to dive deeply into metrics, and to start tracking even more of them, with more regularity. Recognize and reward the people and actions that are making a difference for diversity and inclusion.

Actual actions will depend on your size and your current state of diversity.

If you lead an early stage startup with some diversity, do as much as you can and start thinking about the next step things you’ll need to do. Hire HR and D&I people as early as possible. Bring in a recruiter if you need to. Outsource HR if you can’t hire an experienced leader with great judgment. HR and D&I should develop tools for your culture. Implement the early stage recommendations. At the same time, start thinking about each of the later stage company recommendations, determine how you plan to implement them, and incorporate those future plans into your conversations.

If you’re an early stage startup with little to no diversity, you are in trouble and need to fix it fast. Be transparent about the problem and the need to change as a priority. The good news is that it doesn’t take many people to change the numbers, but the bad news is there is probably a widespread problem at your company. As CEO, revisit your culture, redefine it, and push hard for better culture tools. You may need to have some hard conversations with people. Look at your employee life cycle characteristics; which ones can you change quickly and which ones will you need to change over time? Take each of the early startup recommendations to heart and figure out how to implement them. As is usually the case, waiting to fix the problem will likely result in bigger problems. These problems include having a harder time hiring and retaining employees, and a less happy work environment  —  plus potential legal issues.

If you are a later stage startup with strong diversity, see how many new ideas and recommendations you can customize and implement. Think about how you will bring diversity to your board, and what you need to scale diversity at higher numbers on your team.

If you are a later stage startup with little or no diversity, find a D&I leader who can be the CEO’s change driver. Hire full-time diversity recruiters. Reconsider your company values and your culture, and rebuild the tools you use. You will probably need to have many hard conversations. Set goals and metrics for your entire company, and figure out how to reach them. Hold managers accountable for attaining your diversity goals. How many of these initiatives can you implement in the next quarter? The next year?

If your metrics and survey results are strong, keep going. Test out new ideas, including any of our recommendations that you’re not already doing. Please share your experience of how you got where you are with us and others.

For everyone who has the vision and courage to push forward aggressively: What if your whole team spent 25 percent of their time on diversity and inclusion efforts? Diverse companies have up to 35 percent greater likelihood of financial outperformance.1 What would it look like to allocate significantly more resources to diversity? What do you think that could do?

If you are unable to figure out what the right path is, even with these recommendations and resources, you may need to hire or otherwise bring on additional resources.

If you are unable to understand why these recommendations make sense, you are probably part of the problem. Don’t panic. Take the time to learn about and understand diversity and inclusion. Read some of the resource materials at the end of each section, especially in the introduction. Think about your biases  —  we all have them  —  and how they affect your actions and perspective. Then ask people to teach you even more, and pay them for their time to show that you believe diversity work is hard and valuable. Talk with people on your team, people outside your company, even people outside the tech industry. Find people from companies that seem to be doing well at inclusion.

We invite all of you to join Project Include to work together with us and other companies together to learn more and to implement these tools and ideas. Join our startup program to work with other startups on solving this problem and setting the standards for what is possible. Help us build a community, share your experiences with us, or sign up for updates.

  1. Gender-diverse companies show 15 percent likelihood of financial outperformance, and ethnically diverse companies show 35 percent: Hunt, V., Layton, D., and Prince, S. (January 2015).

    Hunt, V., Layton, D., and Prince, S. (January 2015). “Why diversity matters.” McKinsey and Company. Retrieved April 2016 from: