How to Build Diverse Teams
October 26, 2017
“How do we hire more women?”
I was at a happy hour when a fellow entrepreneur asked me this question. Another time I was at Camp YC and no less than six other founders asked me this. I’ve had top Silicon Valley executives reach out to me just to ask this question. Next week, I have a coffee with a founder who charmed his way onto my calendar. Guess what he wants to discuss?
And honestly, I’m tired of it.
Not because I don’t care about companies increasing the number of women they hire, but because founders are asking me the wrong question.
The question you should be asking isn’t, “how can we hire more women?” The question you should be asking is: how can we make our company suck less for women and people of color?
Or, in more polite terms: how do you create a workplace that is fundamentally better for women and people of color than the ones that exist at tech companies today?
We Are Not "Diversity"
Over half of the US population (61.55%) is a woman or person of color [#]. We are not a niche sub-category of people. If you're asking me how to build diverse teams, what you're really asking me is how to build teams with all kinds of people. You are asking me how to recruit, and manage, and grow people from 61% of the population. And if companies want me to tell them how to do that, they're going to have to pay me a lot more than a cup of coffee*. Either way, step number one is to stop thinking of women and people of color as diversity and to start thinking of them as a majority of the population that should be present in the tech industry.
*I don't even drink coffee.
What does it take to grow a team?
In the enterprise software world, growth is about customer retention, not acquisition [#]. The same is true for building a great team. If you want more women on your team, start by retaining the ones you have. And don’t just retain them: make them so happy that they tell every single woman in their network to come work for your company.
Your goal is to get a viral coefficient greater than one for every woman and person of color you hire. The bar in the industry has been set pretty low, so if you build a company that makes women, people of color and anyone with a non-traditional background feel welcomed, valued, and safe, they will come work for you – and they will tell their entire community how great you are.
Your good intentions aren't enough
Everyone wants to build a diverse team in theory (or at least pays lip service to the idea), but not everyone is willing to do the actual work to create an inclusive, safe, and egalitarian work environment. Your good intentions aren’t enough to fix sexism, racism, and the host of problems that stem from poor management in the tech industry.
Every woman or person of color with any experience has been fooled by a company or manager with good intentions. While these companies and managers say they care, when difficult problems arise there is little to no action. In order to actually take care of a range of employees, you must actively put measures in place to ensure the retention of diverse talent, starting with an honest, objective assessment of your current company culture.
The only way to do better for the diverse groups who work at your company is to be clear-eyed about the culture that exists at your company today. Good intentions aren’t enough. You need to do something. But what?
Fear not, my blog reading friends. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I’ve talked to a lot of technology leaders, engineers, and yes, I’ve even talked to women and people of color (I’m being snarky here, they are my largest source of information and inspiration). I’m going to walk you through ways you can identify problems in your culture and actually change them, and we’re going to do this by examining the employee pipeline starting at the most important point: the end.
The pipeline backwards
My next four blog posts will cover the importance of each piece of the pipeline in reverse order, going through Retention, Promotions, Safety, and Hiring. Hiring women and people from non-traditional backgrounds becomes simple if you have all the elements in place to retain, promote, and protect people from all backgrounds at your company.
Building Diverse Teams Blog Series
I will be adding links to the blog posts here as I publish them.
- Retention and the Cross-Generational Pipeline
- The Promotion Gap
- Safety and the Danger of Flirting Cultures
- Building a Diverse Pipeline
- Y Combinator. Scaling Growth. Blog.ycombinator.com, 2017
- United States Census. Census Data. 2016.