June 13th, 2018

With Uber and Google’s workplace diversity issues sparking headlines across the country this year, I wanted to share three things that will make a difference. To be clear, none of these things are quick fixes. All three of these ideas are designed to help create a company culture that is diverse and empowered. This can sometimes take years, especially if it’s a situation where you’re trying to heal or re-make a sick company culture.

My thought is that this is one area where Silicon Valley (or any tech company) has a lot to learn from the smaller businesses out there. I can see how many of the small businesses I’ve come into contact with have worked to build vibrant and inclusive company cultures, and these cultures helped push their progress and growth.

Here’s my short list of three things Silicon Valley can learn from a smaller companies.

#1: Open Culture Has to Come First

The phrase “culture fit” gets thrown around a lot in the tech industry, and frequently it’s considered a euphemism for “someone who is exactly like me.” But we don’t want to hire people just like ourselves, especially if that “just like me” is people of the same ethnicity or gender. Instead, we want to hire for a shared commitment to the company vision, values, and mission, but outside that we want differences.

Everyone wants to feel like they’re being heard and their voice is valued especially in the workplace. If your company has a reputation for embracing diverse voices and promoting investment in those voices, regardless of seniority or level, then your company is more likely to attract more applicants. The wider your pool of applicants, in theory, the likelihood you are to hire more diverse team members.

“Don’t look for people like you,” says Arvind Raichur, CEO and co-founder of MrOwl, an internet start-up that boasts 50% women to men ratio in both its executive and development teams. Raichur says he goes into hiring interviews for his team fully expecting the applicants will be different from him. “You can’t artificially create a diverse culture. You’ll get the right talent by welcoming a wide pool of applicants, and embracing the idea that the right talent comes from all backgrounds.”

This starts from the top with a clear commitment that you want to be a workplace and build a company that embraces differences.

#2: Don’t Hire People Exactly Like You

Maybe the most obvious way to bring diversity into your workplace is to make a point to hire people that are different from yourself. This doesn’t mean that if your specialty is in finance that you only hire content writers. But if your “knee jerk” impulse when hiring is to think “I need a version of myself” then stop and re-examine because you are doing a disservice to your team and most importantly to your company.

The benefit of hiring people with different backgrounds and experience sets from yourself, or even from a younger version of yourself, is you’ll be bringing new and different ways of thinking to your company. Having a table full of people who each approach solving problems differently means your problems have a higher chance of getting solved because you are less likely to approach them from the same angle every time. This is important when it comes to setting your team up for success.

Additionally, diverse backgrounds and thought patterns will translate to the product you create, making it more well-rounded for the consumer and giving you a wider audience to engage.

#3: But Don’t Hire for a “Type” Either

As you’re considering how to hire people that are different from yourself or even your current team members, don’t fall into the trap of hiring in order to fill certain “diversity requirements.” If you’ve built an open and inviting company culture and checked your impulse to hire copies of yourself, then your chances of pulling from a diverse pool of applicants will increase of its own accord.

A strong company culture, much like a strong personality, comes from people with varied backgrounds and experiences. The stronger your company culture is, the better your product and the happier your customers will be.

If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job.