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Diversity is not an option
A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew start a company together.
The Christian counts every penny, the Muslim (also Lebanese) teaches business, the Jew (also a woman) takes care of the users. Together, they’re convinced they can create something really cool to change the status quo in entrepreneurship.
OK, it sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not too far from the story of The Family’s founders - Nicolas, Oussama and I. Hopefully, we’re much more than these labels! But you get what I want to talk about: diversity and inclusion in tech startups (D&I), making anyone feel welcome and at ease, whatever their color, religion, nationality, academic background, gender, sexual orientation...
Diversity matters. You already agree. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter. But founders can do better. Much better. And the first step would be to accept that we all have biases and blind spots.
Let’s be less racist every day.
As Alexis Ohanian from Reddit told me in an interview: “Our parents repeated “Don’t be racist!” all our childhood. So right now, many walls come up when we’re told that we’re being racist. We just stop listening. Look, let’s just assume that we are inadvertently racists, sexist, etc. Because we inherited a system that was racist.(...) Let’s try to be less racist every day.”
And more than just admitting that we have biases, founders can lead by example:
- by openly sharing our own fears of offending people,
- by switching from guilt to tolerance regarding our own mistakes,
- by making it clear that getting better on D&I is a big goal,
- and by acting accordingly.
Company culture is shaped in the very early days, by the founders themselves.
The typical startup story sounds kind of like this: three friends meet at school, start building things together just for fun, then they’re getting traction. They decide to take it seriously and to commit, as entrepreneurs. Great. They want to hire. They tap into their closest networks, getting recommendations.
There’s the trap: like attracts like. They end up with an obvious majority of people who all come from the same background and upbringing. They know they won’t innovate with clones, but they need to keep growing fast.
If you want to escape conformity, it starts with you.
It starts by deliberately creating paths for outsiders to jump onto. As a founder, you have plenty of opportunities to share your experiences with a wide variety of audiences.
If you candidly go to places where you think you “don’t belong”, you’ll actually attract people for the right reasons - your mission and values. Just like when you’re a total stranger visiting a new country, you don’t know the local “social rules”, so you’ll focus on the essentials to socialize: being kind and explicit.
Recently I was reviewing a job announcement for a founder who’s trying to hire more women engineers in his startup. Even though his text was well written, no women applied. I asked him to directly share his entrepreneurial experience when addressing a community of women in tech & business. He got plenty of applications.
Set up goals and measure your D&I.
You may have goals and plans, it’s still super hard to change habits. As a founder, openly admit when the goals aren’t being reached and test new things.
Cristina Cordova, a former employee at Stripe, shared an interesting story in this interview. They had to hire a lot, and fast. They failed at hiring diverse profiles. Then they asked the managers (who are hiring) to include someone from a minority group at least once during the hiring process. They multiplied the amount of minority profiles by 3x.
Look more for capabilities than experience.
Experiences reflect existing skills rather than mindset. Capability means the potential to achieve something, which is hard to see during an interview. My own way to identify it is searching for people who aren’t where the statistics would have led them to be “naturally”. If someone has been curious enough to switch from their comfortable environment to a brand new one, without any direct connection, it says a lot.
One can create magic in places where their value is missing.
That’s why an average American salesperson can become a star on a French team. “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” you think. True. But it’s not just a matter of bringing forward expertise that others don’t have.
What we don’t see is that it took courage for the one-eyed man to take the leap, while all of his peers were following one same road. And that’s why this person might create a great dynamic among the team.
Care, open the conversation, be a visible defender of D&I.
It’s exhausting to have to constantly adapt oneself to the majority. Those are the “invisible” efforts Michelle Obama explains well in her book Becoming, when she talks about why, at Princeton, she tended to stay among minority groups.
And even if you think you’re doing well, you might hurt someone. Having a conversation about it will be rewarding for the whole team. As a founder you’re part of the “majority” group, so try this: dare to dedicate time to sharing the moments when you’ve messed up and say that you’re sorry for offending some team members. The burden will feel less heavy for everyone, people will start opening their mouths, the biases can disappear step by step.
The Family’s next startup batch will happen remotely, starting in January! If you’re an entrepreneur willing to grow your startup in the best conditions, apply here. Get ready for an intense 6-week program: getting smart advice, accessing top operators and fundraising with the best investors.