Founders must focus on building strong teams as much as building a strong business. As startups grow, recruiting and hiring practices quickly impact the culture and diversity of their teams. Studies have shown that gender and racial diversity helps create stronger business outcomes, however, companies can not retain these employees if they do not create inclusive workplaces for all employees. Many executives have found that is a more nuanced task than scaling a great product. At a recent Out in Tech talk hosted by URBAN-X, stakeholders in the urban tech community discussed key ways to create more diverse and inclusive workspaces for the LGBTQ community and other minorities in tech to thrive.

“Some people put a lot of work into [recruiting] and for some it is a check the box exercise,” says Michael DeLucia, principal at Sidewalk Labs.

Diverse. Check.

How many check marks do you need? Who knows.

Most agree that the key to diversity (racial, gender, or otherwise) is not quotas. “Diversity quotas are not the right way to hire a diverse team,” says Nathan Poekert, global director of communications and marketing at MINI Innovation & Strategy. So, how do you create a more diverse workplace? Michael suggests that you add more people to your applicant pool. “If you want more diverse outcomes you have to focus on the top of the funnel,” Michael says. “If you want a diverse outcome in your company, participate in recruiting. Go out of your way to source people who are diverse.”

The balance is keeping the hiring process structured so that everyone is held accountable to the same requirements. You won’t be able to hire based on likeability. “It is incredibly important to not get a group think mentality,” Michael says. “People who are a ‘good fit’ can sometimes be just people similar to you.” According to the American Sociological Review: “To fully understand hiring outcomes and inequalities, we must consider not only candidates’ human capital, social capital, and demographic characteristics, but also the match between their displays of cultural signals and those of the gatekeepers evaluating them.” This means hiring managers may look for social cues from applications to determine whether or not they are a good cultural for the company. Those social cues are largely similarities held by the majority of the organization.  

The tech industry’s c-suite and most of its workers are largely white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men. Once a diverse candidate is hired, it may feel like a lonely place if you stand out. “I’ve always been the only minority person in the room,” said Claire Woo, founder and VP of Energy Systems at Blueprint Power.  However, research has proven that lack of diversity hurts businesses financially. Companies with at least one woman founder raise more capital than all-male teams, according to the Kauffman Foundation. There isn’t readily available research on LGBTQ employees in the tech industry which makes this particular experience harder to qualify. However, Claire explained how tricky it can be to navigate the lack of diversity in the tech industry. “I express myself differently so I can’t escape that,” she says. “I get misgendered. It’s been awkward. I’ve become comfortable with it.” At her own company, she gets to make her own rules. As she was writing her employee handbook, she decided to use non-binary pronouns. It is a small step toward a more inclusive future. 

Once you have diverse hires, what’s next? Can you get them to stay? Companies should be mindful about what they are doing to keep their employees. Unfair treatment in the workplace is the single largest driver of turnover in the tech industry, according to a 2017 study from the Kapor Center for Social Impact. “The other side of it is how are you treating them in the workplace,” says Liz Sisson, COO at Urban Us and Program Manager at URBAN-X. “Are there opportunities that you are providing folks once they are in place? Do they feel safe?”

Liz says that it is also about finding the right fit as the candidate. Larger companies have more people and a higher chance for a more diverse staff and more supportive resources to ease the transition. Smaller companies may allow for a bigger impact within the company and the culture. They both have their downsides. “At smaller organizations you may have an unjust emotional burden of representation and support,” Liz says. “At a large companies, just because it has a chief diversity officer doesn’t mean it’s any good.”

Michael has a litmus test for employees: “Ask yourself: can I bring my whole person to work?”

Photography by Noah Fecks.

Written by Jennifer Jefferson.