Office Hours #9: Why should we talk about Diversity and Inclusion during times of crisis?

While this is undoubtedly one of the toughest periods any business will face, it’s vastly important that your approach to inclusivity isn’t sacrificed as a result.  Here to discuss why diversity and inclusion is as vital as ever in a time of crisis, are Christina Caljé, CEO and co-founder of Autheos and Alexander Ribbink, General Partner at Keen Venture Partners.

1 - Why is diversity so important?

Christina highlights that diversity can mean a range of things - and that a more diverse team holds the ability to understand a wider range of potential clients, ultimately benefiting your business. 

“Whether that diversity comes from a socioeconomic standpoint, a cultural standpoint or a demographic standpoint - if you don’t have that reflected in your team, the products you’re creating are not going to be taking those things into consideration.

“It also has to do with your frame of reference. For me, diversity is not necessarily another ethnic woman being on the team, for me, diversity could be a white male who has a very different approach to thinking about the business. I think it’s another important way to think about diversity, it’s not always just about the standard way, a big part of it is the skill level and having a team that really compliments each other.”

This sentiment rings even truer when talking more specifically about startup businesses. 

“It’s super important to have that diversity of thought on your team, to try to anticipate how your users might be reacting to your product. Even as you're encountering challenges or opportunities, having the diversity of culture will help you come up with innovative approaches to tackle those opportunities and challenges.” 

Alexander echoed the benefits of having a truly diverse team: “I think it’s the smart thing as well. It’s proven time and again that diverse teams make better businesses. If a team is less diverse, it’s less smart business.”

2 - Handling layoffs without bias

With many companies freezing their recruitment and others forced into downsizing, there’s a worry that diversity could suffer as a side-effect. 

Alexander warns that it’s extremely important that our approach to diversity doesn’t freeze - and as should be the case when hiring, biases don’t play a part when it comes to letting people go. 

“I think it’d be really stupid if it were frozen. The reasons why it should be on the agenda are exactly the same as before the crisis. It makes for better teams, it makes for better businesses. It shouldn’t be frozen.

“Make sure your fire as unbiased as you hire. Don’t discriminate ever, make sure diversity remains anchored as much as possible.” 

Christina adds that there are potential positives to be found despite the circumstances being tricky - and that now is the time to be bold in reaching out to potential employers. 

“This could be an opportunity if you’re a founder that really values diversity and you’ve had trouble finding diverse talent in the past. The positive way to think about it is there will be a lot of talented people reentering the job market.

“At this point, every founder, no matter what stage the company, has similar concerns. It makes it easier to go out to cold contact with another person. It’s time to be bold and just reach out. People have more time on their hands because they are around more often, I think people are craving to make new connections.”

3 - Tackling issues head-on

Christina offers her advice on how to react when faced with issues relating to inclusivity - and how as a leader, it’s important to instil a positive culture that embraces everyone. 

“It comes from trying to create empathy within the culture. If you’re a leader and you hear a comment made that could be found offensive, make sure that you address it right away in front of everybody. Do so in a subtle enough way that you’re not seeming too aggressive but you’re also making a really strong point about it.

“Take both people aside afterwards, the person who said it and the person who felt it, so there is this communication between the teams.” 

In all businesses, particularly in startups, diversity should be seen as nothing but a positive. Embracing all walks of life is more vital now than it ever has been and any kind of biases simply cannot play a part in decision making at any level. If you’re not already doing all you can to ensure your business encourages inclusivity, now is the time to fix your approach. 

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