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What We Learned From Developing our DEI Playbook for Early Stage Startups

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JAN 25 - 2023

What We Learned From Developing our DEI Playbook for Early Stage Startups

Building a company by applying a DEI lens applied across the org builds trust and creates a stronger company. Period. 

Last week, we announced the publication of our DEI Playbook for early stage startups, in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking (you can download it here). This resource gives operators for early stage startups a quick guide to developing a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) approach to their business with a set of tools and resources for culture, hiring, and product design. Why correct for missteps when you can slow down and build thoughtfully, from the get?   In publishing this playbook, we seek to offer steps to help founders get started, in the earliest days of company development. It’s not intended to be a holistic answer to DEI—rather, the beginning of the journey for a founder who likely has a full plate and is facing frequent, existential questions on how best to spend their time. 

Here are just a few key insights you’ll learn from the DEI Playbook:

  • The numbers don’t lie. In the face of painful founder statistics (2% of venture dollars are invested in women founders) and reports that make clear our shortcomings in the tech sector (despite racially diverse teams outperforming their peers by 35%, diversity is undermined by diversity pay gaps like Black engineers earning 13% less than white engineers ), too often, DEI is treated as a second-tier priority.

  • When committing to a DEI approach, start by asking yourself: what’s my “why”? There are various answers to this question of why invest in DEI now—here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started:

    • What is my North Star - my company’s vision, mission and values? What impact am I looking to make with this company? What is driving me and my team's success?

    • What does a "good" work culture look and feel like for my employees?

    • What is important to me as I build my team? Who will be making decisions core to our success?

    • Who am I designing this product for (and in exchange, who am I un/intentionally not designing the product for)? 

    • What risks do I face if I don't do this work?

  • Thinking about recruiting has evolved beyond “Hire fast, fire faster.” Instead, we have learned from our friends at Mathison (a Company Ventures portfolio company that focuses on diversity recruiting and analytics) that a founder must focus on building an inclusive culture first, followed by a concerted effort to recruit with that inclusivity in mind. This promotes an environment that supports their new hires’ success.

  • Hiring extends beyond your full-time team. You may want to start by considering how you're championing diversity with your early contractors, vendors and other service providers. Every one of these partners can help you build a stronger company through a wider lens of experience. By establishing supplier diversity guidelines and internal accountability metrics, and by leveraging certifying bodies, you can create a much wider impact with your business. Look to the following organizations for great vendors:

    • Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)

    • National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC)

    • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)

    • Disability:IN

    • National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC)

Bringing a diversity, equity and inclusion lens to building a startup fosters trust, authentically, and can create business value, but the work is active, ongoing and involves a deep leadership commitment. At Company Ventures, we’re reflecting on these same questions and on our own DEI journey as an investment firm. It is work that’s never done, requires consistent reflection and improvement, and is best embedded in all levels of the organization. Find more insights in our DEI Playbook, which you can download on our website.

DEI Playbook