Contemplating Diversity & Inclusion: A Startup CEO Asks, How Can We Achieve It?

Hi, I’m Alon Roundforest CEO, and we have a gender diversity problem. We have no senior female leaders and our overall gender balance is heavily tilted towards males.

We’ve been working hard to change this. After spending a lot of time researching this topic, reading all the excellent material, and discussing it, we distilled it to an action plan that we believe will work for our organizational culture.

I’m hoping this post can do two things: 1. Serve as a starting point for those looking for practical actions to take at their own company, and 2. To ask for input, ideas, feedback and initiate a discussion on things we all can be doing to help us achieve diversity – so please comment!

Why focusing on gender diversity? 

As a first step in our diversity journey, we decided to focus on making sure everyone at Roundforest understands the importance of gender diversity. Promoting gender diversity starts with helping our team understand that people think differently. We hope that by practicing that awareness will serve as a basis for understanding and promoting diversity more broadly–including diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, religion, and sexual orientation.

Let’s take a step back – why is diversity in the workplace important?

Let’s start with the business case first. Objectively, a diverse workplace is proven to do better financially – Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have seen their return on invested capital increase by at least 66%, return on sales increase by 42%, and return on equity increase by at least 53%. And it’s not a surprise. There are many advantages to having a diverse team, probably the most important one is truly being able to understand your users. Teams which include a member that shares a client’s ethnicity are 152% more likely to understand that client than another team.

So where do we start?

The following outlines the initial steps we’ve taken on our diversity journey at Roundforest. We fully acknowledge that this is just the starting point & we’re eager to hear more ideas of where we can go from here. We came up with a 3 step action-plan:

1. Initiate a company wide dialogue & awareness process: We recognize that gender diversity can only become a core part of our company identity if our entire team is aligned and actively participating in making it happen:


  • Craft a diversity statement: Our most recent company-wide Retrospective spurred an important discussion on how to build a better company culture (this retro followed a major transition we’ve made at Roundforest – I shared more details about this process here). Promoting a diverse & inclusive environment was a big part of that Retrospective, so following the discussion we sat together & brainstormed a diversity specific mission: Roundforest is focused on hiring a team from all backgrounds & walks of life, and we recognize that diversity of opinion helps us grow as a company. In order to build products that appeal to different types of people, we need a team made up of different types of people. We are specifically committed to supporting women’s career & personal growth within our organization. It’s important to us that all Roundforesters know that diversity is a key focus as our company grows.


  • Conduct a gender diversity analysis: We did an analysis of our applicant funnel for a few recent positions, and it became clear that a big part of our diversity problem starts there. The data highlights two key things: the first is that our two engineering roles had significantly more male applicants (with our VP of Engineering role receiving 35x more male applicants than female); the second takeaway was that both of our more senior roles skewed towards male applicants (though our Head of Product Marketing position did not skew as heavily as the engineering roles). The bottom line is that we need to be doing better to increase the number of women in our recruiting funnel.

Engineering roles skew heavily towards male applicants, and more senior roles have fewer female applicants.

  • We want to maintain a level of excellence: Our ultimate goal is to find the best person for each position regardless of gender. We’re realizing that this natural tension is an inherent part of the process and something that’s important to discuss especially with hiring managers. We are willing to accommodate less experienced candidates in the sake of achieving diversity, only if we know we can quickly grow them to the level of excellence that we need. We’re not going to compromise on our high bar of excellence.

2. Update our recruitment process: Based on our diversity analysis, we knew that we have to take significant steps to upgrade our recruitment process. We learned a lot from recommendations of others, and the actions outlined below are focused on doing everything we can to both increase the diversity of our funnel of applicants while still maintaining our high bar of hiring excellence.

  • Change job description language: language is important and in the tech world we tend to use overly-masculine words like “rockstar” & “ninja” which can be major turn-offs to potential female applicants. We’ve re-written all of our job descriptions to make sure that the language is reflective of the team we want to create — words of collaboration vs competition & phrases that reflect a growth mindset (“someone who’s a lifelong learner”) vs superlatives (“the best at XYZ”). You can check out examples of our updated job descriptions here.
  • Highlight our focus on flexibility: Often when people think of startups, they fear that they’ll have to work non-stop over nights and weekends – and this is true in a lot of cases. But not at Roundforest. We think it’s important to actively tell potential Roundforesters (in interviews, on our website, & in blog posts like this), that we care a lot about offering flexibility to our team members We openly encourage our team to leave work at work (evenings & weekends are sacred), and we offer a few perks to all Roundforest employees to promote this balance. All employees receive stipends to explore hobbies or passions that will help them grow (whether that’s a programming class or a meditation training) & each Roundforester has unlimited vacation days to take the time they need to recharge.

The Roundforest website highlights how important diversity, balance, & flexibility are to us.

3. Promote a culture where diversity is valued:  Updating the recruitment process is step 1, but once we’ve hired more diverse employees we need to make sure we’re fostering a culture that supports this diversity. We know that a “non-inclusive company will not succeed in retaining female talents.”

  • CEO level priority: We believe that culture is built bottom up and top down – every single team member contributes to the overall company culture, but ultimately the tone of the culture is set by the CEO. I am personally committed to promoting a diverse & inclusive culture as a top priority of mine & will be heavily involved in overseeing how we do that

.

  • Educate everyone about inclusion: We think it’s important to not just talk about diversity as a priority, but to also to continually educate all of our team about how to create a work environment that supports gender diversity. As a first step we created a public Slack channel where anyone can share articles, tips, and ideas that are focused on the big and small things we can all do to make everyone feel comfortable . Be one of the first to start the conversation!
  • Promote a family friendly workplace: As I mentioned, we actively focus on flexibility and balance at Roundforest – and promoting that to potential employees. As part of this approach, we also want to make sure that our workplace is accessible for parents – this means doing things like encouraging team members not to schedule late evening meetings so parents can be with their children and letting people work from home when they need to.

From the community – Other Ideas to Promote Diversity

I’m thrilled to see that this post has already instigated discussion about this critical topic. We’ve received a bunch of other great ideas that I want to highlight here:

  • Special referral bonuses: We know that we need to work harder to spread the word to a more diverse audience if we want to increase the diverse funnel of applicants. One way we’ve heard of to do this is to give out referral bonuses to employees who refer to underrepresented candidates. We loved this idea and recently rolled out a referral program to our employees that gives an extra bonus for female hires.
  • Specifically target women during recruitment: This can include having your recruiters or hiring managers proactively reach out to women on LinkedIn about specific positions and posting roles in women focused online groups or communities (in Tel Aviv, we have a women’s only Facebook group with 17K members where any woman can post).
  • Try to include a diverse mix of interviewers: By having a diverse group of people interview a recruit, you’re showing that you’re a company who fosters diversity.
  • Publicly Promote Women: When women contribute to major company achievements, shout those from the rooftops! You could write blog posts about them & publicly acknowledge them in all hands meetings. Also, optics are important – which means that including diverse company images on your website & your collateral goes a long way in attracting female talent.
  • Monitor Gender Pay Gaps: This may seem obvious to some, but the truth is that across industries and roles women on average make $.81 for every dollar a man makes. This is unacceptable, and at Roundforest we pay women the exact same amount as men who are doing the same role.

Setting the diversity standard, together

We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that reaching true diversity will require a serious investment on our end & a willingness to update our policies and processes as our company grows.

We’re committed to this growth, but we know we can’t do it alone. What have your companies done really well when it comes to hitting diversity goals & creating a culture where diversity is valued? Let us know in the comments & let’s start the conversation. I’m excited to hear your ideas.

PS: If Roundforest sounds like the type of company you’d want to be part of & diversity is important to you too, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our open positions here.

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