May 27, 2024

Building Equitable and Diverse Teams: Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had the privilege of starting and growing multiple successful businesses. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is the critical importance of building equitable and diverse teams.

The Business Case for Diversity

First and foremost, building diverse teams is simply good business. Study after study has shown that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Diverse teams are more innovative and come up with more creative solutions to problems
  • Diverse teams are better at understanding and serving diverse customer bases
  • Diverse teams are better at avoiding groupthink and making better decisions
  • Diverse teams are more resilient and better able to adapt to change

Simply put, diverse teams are more effective and more profitable. And in today’s global economy, where companies are increasingly competing on a global scale, having a diverse team is more important than ever.

Challenges in Building Diverse Teams

Of course, building diverse teams is easier said than done. There are a number of challenges that can make it difficult to create a truly diverse and equitable team, including:

  • Unconscious bias: We all have biases, whether we realize it or not. These biases can lead us to overlook qualified candidates who don’t fit our preconceived notions of what a successful team member looks like.
  • Limited networks: If your personal and professional networks are predominantly made up of people who look and think like you, it can be difficult to find diverse candidates.
  • Cultural fit: Many companies prioritize “cultural fit” when hiring, which can lead to a homogenous team. But it’s important to remember that “cultural fit” can be a code word for “people who are just like us.”

Overcoming these challenges requires intentional effort and a commitment to building a truly diverse and equitable team.

Lessons Learned

Over the years, I’ve learned a few key lessons about building diverse and equitable teams. Here are three of the most important:

1. Start at the Top

Building a diverse team starts with leadership. If the leadership team is not committed to diversity and equity, it’s unlikely that the rest of the organization will be either. This means that leaders need to actively seek out diverse candidates and create a culture that values diversity.

One way to do this is to set diversity goals and hold leaders accountable for meeting them. For example, at one of my companies, we set a goal of having 50% of our leadership team be women and people of color within five years. We then made it a priority to seek out and hire diverse candidates for leadership positions, and we held ourselves accountable for meeting that goal.

2. Expand Your Networks

If your personal and professional networks are limited, it can be difficult to find diverse candidates. That’s why it’s important to intentionally expand your networks and seek out candidates from a variety of backgrounds.

One way to do this is to partner with organizations that focus on diversity and equity. For example, at one of my companies, we partnered with a local organization that helps women and people of color start and grow businesses. Through that partnership, we were able to connect with a number of talented and diverse candidates.

3. Prioritize Skills and Potential Over “Cultural Fit”

As I mentioned earlier, prioritizing “cultural fit” can lead to a homogenous team. Instead, it’s important to prioritize skills and potential when hiring.

One way to do this is to use blind hiring techniques, such as removing names and other identifying information from resumes. This can help reduce unconscious bias and ensure that candidates are evaluated based on their skills and experience, rather than their race, gender, or other characteristics.

Conclusion

Building equitable and diverse teams is not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. But it requires intentional effort and a commitment to change. By starting at the top, expanding your networks, and prioritizing skills and potential over “cultural fit,” you can build a team that is not only diverse and equitable, but also more effective and more profitable.

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