First, companies need to honestly answer the question, “Why is D&I important to us?” What are these startup leaders trying to achieve as a result of dedicating resources to the effort? How will it impact their business? Startups are scrappy and fast-moving, but it’s important to be thoughtful about this topic early on. Righting the ship later is much more difficult.
For example, at Microsoft, if we don’t have people of diverse backgrounds, skills, and experiences building our products, how do we expect to engineer technology for diverse audiences? It’s a strategic imperative. We cannot achieve our mission if we all look and dress and think the same way.
I encourage startups to think from the beginning about the kind of company they’re trying to build. Maybe you’re building fast to get to sale and cash out. But maybe you’re building for the long-term—a sustained institution. Your D&I strategy will look different based on your company ambitions.
Many companies right now are focusing on D&I because it’s a hot topic, but the danger is that in responding to the increasing sense of urgency, an organization might act performatively rather than plan and act for long-term sustained change. If you make an arbitrary decision to “do” D&I instead of an authentic commitment, your employees will see right through it. The market will see right through it—it’s brand- and reputation-impacting. Holding up a mirror and asking those hard questions is the first step here.