Topic 18. Build a Diverse Workforce

Committing to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an on-going commitment that includes training, leadership, uncovering unconscious bias, and growing your business. Whether you’re a bootstrapped or VC-backed company, there are actions you can take to begin the entrepreneur's journey to diversity. Jason Thompson, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion expert, offers his guidance and actionable steps for founders who want to build a diverse workforce but don’t know where to start. With more than 20 years of experience, Jason applied his expertise in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, community outreach, program management, strategic planning, and public relations to this Techstars resource. Within this module, you’ll learn how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts can help boost growth, generate a higher ROI, and retain employees. Jason uses the Four Pillars of the Founders’ Commitment developed by Kapor Capital to show how to collect data, recruit diverse candidates, remove unconscious biases, developing diversity and inclusion plans, and more.


What's Included in this Guide:

Introduction to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Building Tomorrow’s Company

Commit to the World You Live In

Hiring a Diverse Workforce

Let's get started
Part 1.

Introduction to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

This video will introduce you to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the workforce. Building a diverse company takes time and commitment to your future.

I am Jason Thompson, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars. Today we’re talking about the entrepreneur's journey to diversity. 

The reason I like calling it a journey is because it's not what you do on one day, and it’s not about checking the box, it's an on-going commitment. Today we're going to share what you can do in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to grow your company.

Part 2.

Building Tomorrow’s Company

Having a dynamic company that prepares you for the future includes building a diverse and inclusive workforce. This section will teach why a diverse company will boost the growth and performance of your company while building tomorrow’s best company.

I started my career in higher education, then moved into healthcare. Prior to Techstars, I built the Diversity & Inclusion Program for United States Olympic team that won a national award for innovation for the diversity scorecard I developed – it is still in use today. This program helped the organization quickly measure how they were doing with diversity initiatives. 

This concept of measuring for diversity reminded me of the story that was told to me by a university president. The president went to the Dean of the engineering school and asked the Dean a very simple question, what's the goal of your engineering school? The Dean responded with, my goal is to create today's best engineer. The president of the university responded with, if that's what you're doing, you're failing our students. You should not be creating today's best engineer, you should be creating tomorrow's best engineer. Because if you create today's best engineer, that engineer is dated the minute they graduate from our school, we should be preparing them for the future.

If you think about that, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work is part of that too. In order to build a dynamic company, you have to understand what's going on in the future and plan for that change.

The question I have for you is, what kind of company are you building? Are you building today's best company or tomorrow's best company? And are you thinking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Looking at population data in 2050, you’d think European countries would have the highest number, not at all. 

You’ll find India, China, and Nigeria at the top of population growth, then the United States. 

I ask again, what kind of company are you building? Are you building today's best company or one that's going to be able to take advantage of that population opportunity?

By having Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion woven into your goals, it helps you understand how it connects to you and the company. 

One of the common questions founders ask is, what's the ROI on diversity and why should we do this? Here are some reasons:

  •     Diverse companies have 90% higher retention. People stay in a company that's diverse. 
  •     Gender diverse companies typically perform better, and racially and ethnically diverse companies also perform better. 


Part 3.

Commit to the World You Live In

One part of committing to diversity is building a company with employees that look like the world you live in. This video will give you actionable steps on how to build a diverse company via the Four Pillars of the Founders’ Commitment developed by Kapor Capital.


We need to commit to diversity. 

How do we make this commitment to diversity? Well, the first thing is we need to define what we mean by diversity. It means you look like the country or the world you live in. You should see the diversity in the world represented in your company. 

However, it doesn't come without tension. It'll make you uncomfortable, and that's okay, and that's normal because I would also say when people feel included, they'll speak up and that's why there's tension when you have diversity. 

When people feel empowered to speak up, it means they're going to challenge what you think and you're going to need that in order to have a successful company. We’ll talk about that connection in just a minute.

Kapor Capital developed the founder’s commitments for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the form of an acronym, G.I.V.E. Techstars has committed to those as well. 

G.I.V.E. = goals, invest, volunteer and educate 


Setting goals for your company start with committing to diversity. I know that sounds very simple, but it's actually more complicated than you think. 

Assign a Leader

As I mentioned, I've worked in health care, sports, and Techstars, and almost every one of those companies started the diversity program the same way. They put together a committee then after a year they realized the work wasn’t really getting done. And the reason for that is they didn’t assign a leader. 

I realized that many companies considered themselves too small to commit to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - they’re wrong. This is where I encourage you to choose someone to lead Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts. If someone's not responsible for it, it won’t get done as part of your company commitment. 

Collect Data

Regardless of the size of your company, you can still collect data around diversity, equity & inclusion. Data can be collected anywhere from employees to customers. Here is an example: you’ve started collecting data and discover that women hate your product, but men love it. You look around the office and there are six guys in your company and no women, that might explain the data. 

Looking at who is not in the room, and who is not consuming your product would be a huge opportunity for company growth. Take advantage of this by collecting data. 


One of my favorite sayings is audio should match video. What you say should look like what you do. In your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work, you should make sure audio matches video and a simple way to do that is compensation. 

We’ve known for years that women have been underpaid. As part of your commitment, from day one, make sure audio matches video and just pay people fairly. This commitment should also be reflected in your code of conduct, mission statement, and vision. 

Techstars has committed to audio matches video. We've upgraded our code of conduct and you'll find compensation as part of our commitment.

Compensation isn’t just salary, it’s all the different forms of compensation. This is a simple way to commit to a culture of inclusion. People who have been paid fairly, will feel more empowered and are more motivated to support the company. 

Building a foundation around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is directly tied to the work of your employees and you are doing to build the business. 


If you are going to recruit from diverse communities, you also need to volunteer and give back to those communities. And by doing that, you start to build a diverse network. One of the challenges that I typically find is people say, my network's not very diverse, so it's hard for me to recruit and my business is moving so fast. 

That is exactly why you've got to constantly build your network. And you can start by volunteering and supporting. 

I do want to caution that when I say volunteering, it’s not going into a poor community to save those folks. No, it's, it's more complicated than that, and you shouldn't be working from the stereotype, it leads to unconscious bias.

Volunteering and supporting could mean going to a women in engineering program and mentoring, or a minority entrepreneurship event, startup weekend, girls in tech, etc. 

The other thing I would say is to partner with organizations. I told you I came out of the university system, and almost every major university has a chief diversity officer. This could be an opportunity to reach out to them when you have a position opening. 


The other thing I would do to build a diverse network is I would hire an Avilla.

I worked at a hospital system and we had this incredible CEO. What I loved about him is the way he did business. One day I was talking to  Avilla, and I asked her how she got the job. She told me our CEO recruited her years after seeing her give a presentation at a competing hospital. The CEO went up to her after the presentation and told her he was going to hire her. The CEO never forgot about Avilla and hired her when there was an opening. This hospital was in a very white suburb in Oklahoma City. And it wasn’t about checking the box for diversity, it was about putting a great leader where they are needed.

While you're out there expanding your network and meeting great people, just make a note. That's how you build a network. That's how you find great people. 


Another thing to expand your network is to attend conferences. There's a lot of conferences around gender, race, and entrepreneurship, and attending helps expand your network. This is an opportunity to educate yourself about different concepts around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and unconscious bias.


Unconscious Bias

Would you say you have biases against people? You’ll need to take the test and find out. 

Visit the Build a Diverse Worksheet to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test

When I took the test, I found out I have a bias against Black people, and I am Black! What the hell! I’ve been doing diversity my whole life. How is this possible? That’s why it’s called unconscious bias.

The first thing you need to do is understand what biases you have because we all have them. I’ll illustrate this through a story:

I have a photo of my daughter standing in front of this massive monster truck at a community event. I remember when we saw the truck, I looked at my wife right away, and I was like, we aren’t going into that event. And she agreed with it. We both agreed. And then I thought, holy cow, I’ve been doing diversity for years. There's something going on here. I shouldn't just blurt that out. There had to be a deeper reason why I wasn't going to go. 

I realized I had a bias to monster trucks. There was an unconscious bias connection I made between monster trucks, country music, and racism. I assumed that if you listened to country music and drove that big truck, you probably don't like Black people. I unconsciously connected those things together. 

I assume that the majority of people don’t go about their day looking to discriminate. But what happens in situations like mine, is that your mind takes an unconscious bias shortcut to avoid discomfort. 

Using my monster truck example as a hypothetical scenario: Let’s say that there was a new job opening in our diversity program, and you get that interview. On the morning of the interview, I pull in the parking lot with my sedan, and you pull up in that big truck with country music blaring, do you think I’m going to hire you? Yes or no? Probably not. The reason I don't hire you isn't that I'm intentionally discriminating. Instead, I will use a code word...fit.

Code Words

Fit is an example of a code word used when people look to find a reason to stay in their comfort zone.

For example, if there are two top candidates and can't decide which on to select, someone may say who's the best fit? Let's pick the person who fits the best.

We tend to use those types of phrases or code words. And for those in the room, everyone understands what “fit” means. What happens is that our unconscious bias finds a way to impact the decisions we make on a daily basis. 

To start overcoming unconscious bias, start by acknowledging that you have biases, identify what they are and have open a conversation about fit. What you don’t want to do is reproduce those biases which can lead to lost opportunities. No matter what the size of your company is, you can't afford that kind of mistake. You can't have a room full of people who all just nod their heads at you, never feel empowered to question what you're going to do or what's happening in the organization.

Part 4.

Hiring a Diverse Workforce

Using code words like “fit” could inhibit hiring diverse candidates. This video provides recruiting methods that can help level the playing field and address unconscious bias during the recruiting process.

One of the ways to overcome “fit” in hiring and recruiting is to use the 4, 2, 50% Rule. 

How it works: If you have four candidates, one female and three men, the odds of you hiring the female are zero. What research has found is that if you have two women and two men and simply balance the pool of applicants, the odds of you hiring a female becomes 50% - which means no one receives an advantage. 

By simply changing how you do your interview process can help you move towards your commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Other places you can commit to diversity are in your marketing messaging. Begin to evaluate if your consumer messaging reflects Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Remember, committing to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a journey, and it’s not about checking the box. It's work that you have to do to be successful. 

I’d like to end with a reminder of the G.I.V.E. concepts.

  • Set goals. Look to the future of your company
    •  Collect your data. What is your customer base look like? How are you reaching them? 
  •  Invest in people. And that means salaries too. A lot of times we think, we invest in people because we have great benefits, but make sure everybody has equal access to those benefits. Whether they're LGBTQ or African American, make sure you have a process that is treating people fairly and they feel empowered and included.
  • Volunteer. Remember to leave all assumptions at the door about that community and what they can or can’t do. 
  • Educate. The way you overcome assumptions is to educate yourself and others. You are making the effort to understand about unconscious bias and your biases.