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Raising the Bar for Corporate Diversity and Inclusion

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truss.worksThere’s been a lot of media attention on the prevalent racism, sexism and economic divides existing in our country today–particularly the inequalities we are seeing in the technology industry. In marketing alone, men are almost twice as likely as women to be a director, and over four times more likely to be CEO or Managing Director. On the content side, only 19% of advertisements target minority groups. But we are seeing that when we create inclusive material, it resonates. Case-in-point, look at the box office success of Black Panther (#1) and Crazy Rich Asians (#11). And we won’t soon forget the Nike ads with Colin Kapernick, Serena Williams and Caster Semenya, which featured brown faces — and helped add $6B to Nike’s market cap.

So how can corporate leaders go from being a company that reacts to diversity issues, to taking initiative to solve challenges before they happen, and see opportunities before their competitors?

At my company Truss, we take an infrastructure-first approach to diversity and inclusion. In other words, we think about the interaction between systems, software and people required to achieve measurable and sustainable progress. Unlike the days when mandating a training video was thought to be a simple solution, we know that D&I is a complex issue and requires new strategies.

Start with purpose, and align your D&I initiatives with your business goals. Whether you want to connect with customers and avoid embarrassing tone-deaf marketing campaigns, or develop insightful products that require a great research and development team, D&I needs to advance your business. We know from many studies that diverse teams (especially leadership teams) have better business performance.

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At Truss, we have explicit values and expectations for how we serve our clients and customers. Diverse perspectives based on race, class, orientation, age, country of origin as well as skill sets enable us to solve a wide variety of challenges — from making smart breast pumps to helping millions access healthcare. We had a headstart since our founding team is diverse, but continued focus has enabled us to sustain an engineering team that is between 40-50% women.

Shift your mindset. If you’re new to D&I or have a homogeneous team, the first order of business is adopting a beginner’s mind and be open to learning. Send your teams into the market, into neighborhoods, through your business networks, and listen to what others outside of the majority group care about. Fair warning: you’re likely to feel humbled and awkward. Good — that might mean that people are being candid with you. The benefit is that if you keep showing up, people will trust that you take their perspectives seriously. Being inclusive isn’t restricted to recruiting initiatives focusing on a particular demographic, it’s fostering inclusion through company culture.

Next is to adopt an experimental mindset to test your hypotheses — whether it’s how to recruit more senior women leaders to create a new product for the Latinx market. I’ve run many experiments, like retweeting primarily women on Twitter for several months (using Nuzzel and as filtering and measuring tools) for several months. Our company experimented by asking recruits whether they prefer to be addressed he/him, she/her, or they/them in their phone screen. Not only is this a low-risk, fast way to learn, but it also starts to model behavior for others in your professional network.

But in order for these experiments to accelerate the evolution of a company to be more inclusive, leaders need to take a page from software engineering and build infrastructure. Create systems that enable experiments that show results to be sustained and repeated across the entire organization.

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Start with policies — are they updated with inclusive pronouns? Do you have parental leave or just maternal leave? Do you have a code of conduct for conferences you host — or even better, a pledge for having at least one underrepresented person on every panel where your employees are speaking? Policies are incentives to change the behavior of employees, partners, funders and customers — and in so doing, become influential in their domain. A great resource for updating policies is Project Include — my company Truss was in their inaugural cohort and it’s an invaluable resource.

For example, compensation policy and practice is a critical piece of D&I infrastructure. My co-founders and I wanted to address the salary gap between men and women. We researched contributing factors, from unconscious bias in recruiting to differences in negotiation strategy — even for companies who intend to be fair and unbiased.

We decided to meet the problem head on by making salaries internally transparent. Over nine months, we leveled all positions, communicated and surveyed our employees, and then published all salaries. It eliminates unintentional discrepancies, and for both new and old employees, the clarity far outweighs awkwardness.

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Measuring and reporting systems are a critical piece of infrastructure. A business wouldn’t exist for long if it couldn’t measure sales or customers, but too many D&I initiatives lack real, actionable measurements. There are many companies that have advocated for diversity and inclusion, but far fewer publish measurements like Salesforce in their annual report on the “journey to equality.”

How much time and budget are you allocating, in which initiative, for which results? Have you surveyed your employees before and after to learn whether the policies have had the desired effect? For example, diversifying your leadership group is challenging work — I know first hand — but the next action to take is straightforward. Measure, then commit to getting better.

Ultimately, your infrastructure — if aligned with your purpose — accelerates the outcomes you want and creates friction for behaviors you want to avoid.

Don’t wait for inspiration. Show up, step up, and do the work. It will come.

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