Diversity isn't a trend or check-box item – it's a power move for small and growing businesses. And, we recently saw the impact of diverse leadership first hand.
The Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund and Salesforce for Small Business team joined forces at Dreamforce ‘19 for a superstar panel of female and underrepresented founders. General Partner at Reach Capital Shauntel Garvey moderated the panel and provided some context: despite studies showing that gender and ethnic diversity increases profitability, women and minorities remain underrepresented in management positions. Worse, only 2% of VC funds go to companies with female-only founders, while less than 1% of VC-backed founders are black.
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Why leave an opportunity like that on the table? Diversity is a competitive advantage, and success demands it. Here are five tips from the panelists on how to increase those numbers, scale businesses with inclusivity, and use business as a platform for change.
Founding a startup is both exciting and stressful. ConnXus Founder and CEO Rod Robinson created a cloud-based platform to build more inclusive supply chains connecting procurement professionals, diverse suppliers, and small businesses. He attributes much of his survival and success to the supportive community and network he built around him.
“As an underrepresented founder, I understood the challenge of creating a company and raising capital,” Robinson shared with the group. “But I also found that passion is contagious. When people see passion, that’s when you attract early supporters and build a supportive community around you.” This community can act as a sounding board for ideas and support during inevitable stressful phases.
Sonali Lamba is Co-Founder of Brideside, an omni-channel concierge service that provides products, knowledge, and customer service for brides and bridal parties. She represents a minority of founders who also operates in a female-dominated market. As the leader of this female-founded company in Chicago, she learned from experience that it’s best for founders (like her) to acknowledge there is an unconscious bias – and sometimes a very explicit bias. “You have more power than you think,” Sonali shares. “Numbers don’t lie – share metrics you’re proud of and reframe the conversation.”
FutureFuel.io Founder and CEO Laurel Taylor revealed a concern that her product and engineering teams were all men. FutureFuel.io seeks to eradicate student debt by helping employers provide debt relief as a benefit, and Taylor wanted the company to reflect the diversity of its users.
To correct this initial oversight, she intentionally sought out female applicants to ensure diversity at every layer of the organization. This effort caused a ripple effect that empowered female and underrepresented team members to support and lift each other up. “It’s very important in the beginning stages of the company to ensure diversity,” Laurel advises. “If you find yourself disproportionate in any vein, it’s more difficult to attract diverse candidates (as time goes on).”
In a startup’s early days, many teams find themselves under intense pressure, surviving check to check. Hiring too few, too many, too soon, or too late can be detrimental to success. When every headcount opportunity has the potential to be a game-changer, it might be easy to gravitate towards the applicant from a better-known college or with more credentials. Sonali Lamba recommends CEOs ask themselves, “Am I hiring the person with the best skills for the job today; or am I hiring the person with the best skills for the job in six or 12 months?”
Lamba underscores that there’s so much more to an employee beyond their potential tactical ability to complete a task. She advises CEOs to extend hiring criteria to include other valuable assets that an employee can bring to the table, like the ability to collaborate, speak up, and learn. Creating an environment where team members feel invested in and have opportunities to grow leads to increased employee retention.
Each panelist spoke to the need of establishing core values and using them to drive organizational decisions – from the language used in job posts to the music blasted throughout your retail stores to hiring decisions to the community and partners you surround yourself with.
Robinson intentionally built ConnXus on diversity and used that as a north star for his workforce development. He’s proud to share that his company is 40% female and 35% ethnically diverse.
Having values helps usher your conversations and give companies a purpose beyond profit, which is well-exemplified by Brideside, ConnXus, and FutureFuel.io.
Learn about Salesforce’s efforts to create a workplace that reflects society.