The Importance of Prioritizing Diversity at Work

It is no secret that Silicon Valley has a workplace diversity problem. While this negative fact continues to trend, there is evidence that tech companies headquartered outside of the Bay Area are quietly showing them up by making remarkable strides in hiring and retaining women and minority employees. Smart companies make diversity a priority, because it’s been proven to directly affect the bottom line.

I recently volunteered to be a speaker at a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion. As a white male marketing executive in the tech industry, I was not the obvious pick for this panel – but I was selected to speak on behalf of my company, which has a strong track record in diversity hiring.

Below are a few key concepts that stood out during the panel’s discussion that can be applied to your startup’s own diversity and inclusion efforts, no matter the industry:

  1. Publish your current diversity stats to establish a baseline from which to measure progress

How can you get better if you don’t know where you stand now? For example, Edgenet’s 120 some employee workforce is made up of 39 percent women — and outside of Edgenet’s two male founders, senior management is divided 50/50 between women and men.

Don’t be shy about sharing these statistics with your customers. Even if your current workforce does not reflect a diverse company culture, publishing these statistics demonstrates transparency and your commitment to improvement.

Related: How Hispanic Entrepreneurs are Making an Impact in Entrepreneurship

  1. Implement flexible working and family care programs

Flexibility is key. Allowing employees to work from home or other locations is an immediate indicator of trust.

Global Workplace Analytics found that as much as 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce would like to telecommute at least part of the time, which can increase work productivity because it frees employees from office distractions.

The same goes for a paid honor system, where your staff is free to take all the time off necessary, so long as the job gets done. Good employees already take ownership of their projects and probably spend some amount of personal time working on them. Allowing them the flexibility to leave early for their child’s soccer game makes for a happier home life, as well.

Additionally, starting a family shouldn’t be an issue. For example, First Tennessee Bank (the largest bank in Tennessee) expanded its maternity leave policy last year to give birth mothers eight weeks of paid leave at 100 percent pay, and they quadrupled paternity leave to four weeks, also at 100 percent pay. This policy covers part-time employees and surrogacy, as well.

  1. Mentor

Get out in the community and mentor women and minorities. For example, find a local information technology organization that connects future IT talent, students and those re-entering the workforce with local IT professionals, and share your knowledge.

To find out more about possible programs in your area, visit the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Another great national organization is the TechStar Foundation, dedicated to increasing diversity in entrepreneurship.

Related: Sign up to receive the StartupNation newsletter!

  1. Volunteer

Community outreach is a win-win. Pick a few charities that relate to your company and its goals, and meet with the leaders of those charities to find out how you can help. For example, Deloitte, a professional services company, has its own “Impact Day,” an annual day of service where the company focuses on strengthening the nation’s workforce by volunteering with charities for education and veterans.

If you’d rather not dedicate a full day to community service, your company can also sponsor any number of charitable events for the cause of your choice.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the latest research concludes that, “Enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential.” Adopting and acting on these holistic views can bring big payoffs in innovation and critical thinking.

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