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Promoting diversity within the workplace is one of the best things a manager or team leader can do for their company. Not only does this make sense from a business perspective – diversity within your business helps your company better understand its employees, clients, and customers around the world – but a workplace that embraces diversity is also a more interesting, welcoming, and enriching environment for everyone. Regardless of whether you’re the founder of an early-stage start-up or a people leader at a larger multinational corporation, the benefits of promoting diversity in the workplace cannot be more compelling in today’s globalized business environment. Not sure where to start? We interviewed 15 founders, CEOs, and people leaders on their thoughts on diversity and how they are promoting it within their companies. Follow their advice and begin advancing diversity in your workplace today.

Alyson Friedensohn

Founder & CEO of Modern Health , the first preventive mental health solution for innovative global employers

“We also started an optional internal series called the Anti-Racism Dialogues, where we come together to discuss and educate ourselves on things like systemic racism, read books and articles written by BIPOC and other historically marginalized groups, and commit to political action to combat racism.”

“We are committed to racial equity and diversity within our company. We have Employee Resource Groups for our Black employees and allies and for our Latinx employees and allies (and we intend to add more).  We also started an optional internal series called the Anti-Racism Dialogues, where we come together to discuss and educate ourselves on things like systemic racism, read books and articles written by BIPOC and other historically marginalized groups, and commit to political action to combat racism.  This past June, we held a virtual (as a result of Covid-19 all of our diversity initiatives are now virtual)  “lunch-and-learn” on the history of the Pride movement to celebrate Pride month.  We are also holding company-wide Allyship trainings and healing circles to ensure that all employees know what it means to be a good ally to co-workers from underrepresented groups.”

Lorraine Hariton

President and CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit dedicated to building workplaces that work for women

“Diverse teams are more competitive and have better results simply because they make better decisions for organizations and are more innovative. All this leads to better financial performance.”

“As an organization, Catalyst supports advancing women in the workplace and creating diverse and equitable initiatives to support that mission. Companies that have a more diverse culture and practices are critical to advancing women and underrepresented minorities. Because of all our supporters and the power of our board, Catalyst is in a unique place to make a real impact. I truly believe that diverse teams are more competitive and have better results simply because they make better decisions for organizations and are more innovative. All this leads to better financial performance. In this stakeholder vs. shareholder economy, there’s also more pressure than ever before from investors for corporations to lean into diversity.”

Malte Scholz

CEO and Co-Founder of Airfocus, a leading software solution for smarter roadmap prioritization

“To me, diversity is not only defined by categories such as race or nationality – it also has to do with personality types, age, life, and work experience. The only thing that we all have to share are core values and work ethics. Everything else can and should be quite versatile.”

“Before I started my business, I was working in a team that was very diverse in terms of race and nationality. This diversity was the reason we functioned so well – because people had such unique points of view that helped us solve numerous challenges. Driven by my previous experience, I have decided to intentionally hire people from different backgrounds and build a diverse team. At the moment, we have people from different continents and all of them have distinct backgrounds. To me, diversity is not only defined by categories such as race or nationality – it also has to do with personality types, age, life, and work experience. The only thing that we all have to share are core values and work ethics. Everything else can and should be quite versatile.  My advice to other CEOs is to never put people in categories and get attached to a specific profile of employees. Yes, managing a diverse team is much more challenging and requires strong leadership. However, from my experience, diverse teams tend to be much more independent and productive. A group of people with different yet rich experiences and perspectives have the skills to solve virtually any kind of problem.”

Dr. Matt Marturano

Co-Founder and Vice President at Orchid Holistic Search, a boutique executive search firm and recruitment platform focused on the Natural Products Industry

“Many of our clients send us job orders requiring candidates to have experience in our industry.  This limits us to sourcing from a candidate pool that is already lacking in diversity in the first place. We are working on ways to open up more pathways to leadership in the natural products industry for those whose backgrounds may be in a different kind of business.”

“As executive recruiters in an industry that is dominated by white males, we feel it is imperative that we act as allies to women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups when recruiting for leadership positions at our client’s companies. Here are some of the things we’ve done within the last month: Reviewed 10 years of prior executive searches to get a base rate for diversity hires through our firm, started a diversity and inclusion networking group for our industry on LinkedIn, completed 10 hours of training on diversity, equity, and inclusion and bringing it into the workplace, created a resource page on diversity, equity, and inclusion on our website, and launched a new program offering special rates for businesses founded or majority-led by women and minorities. Our advice for founders, CEOs, and other leaders seeking to advance diversity in the workplace is to make a firm commitment to your employees by making both internal and external announcements, and by allocating company resources to take immediate action steps. One of the challenges that we’ve faced is that many of our clients send us job orders requiring candidates to have experience in our industry.  This limits us to sourcing from a candidate pool that is already lacking in diversity in the first place. We are working on ways to open up more pathways to leadership in the natural products industry for those whose backgrounds may be in a different kind of business.”

Tammy Tsang

Co-Founder of AndHumanity, a marketing and communications agency built with diversity, inclusion, and humanity at its core

“We have hired an in-house diversity, equity and inclusion expert to continue our learnings. This expert is in charge of weekly training sessions and monthly themes.”

“We have hired an in-house diversity, equity and inclusion expert to continue our learnings. This expert is in charge of weekly training sessions and monthly themes. Every month, we learn about a new community – this past month’s was the LGBTQ2S+ community. Having an in-house DEI Expert helps keep us learning the right way. Our entire company (only 7 right now because Covid-19 made us smaller) is all BIPOC folk. As marketers, we realized that we have a magical opportunity at our disposal. Due to the nature of our profession, we are often asked to create things out of nothing – we have a blank canvas to write, draw, photograph etc. and we can use this special power to portray the world we actually see in front of us, with all its nuances, flaws, and the true depth that humans have. We want to utilize this power to help people develop a better understanding of one another and also to create more empathy in the world. We don’t settle for what’s comfortable and what’s normal. Instead, we dig deep, knowing that what we create will shift perceptions, albeit one person at a time. To me, diversity, equity, and inclusion means a world where everyone feels like they belong. There are no hindrances or barriers that prevent one from being oneself. DEI isn’t a trend, it’s an ongoing, long-term commitment. We will be a minority majority nation by 2036. If you take it seriously, DEI will prove to be financially beneficial, but most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

Cynthia Dalagelis

Impact Advocate & Private Fund Advisor

“The diversity of perspectives you bring to the table as a company lead to different outlooks, opinions, and perspectives that allow your business to grow in areas otherwise unexplored, venture into areas and opportunities otherwise unseen, and provide insights into new markets and territories otherwise unknown.” 

“What I can say and has been very clear from the private equity and venture capital perspective is that minority owned and driven businesses have yet to see equal allocation of capital deployment as non-minority founders. I do believe that this is in the process of changing and the Black Lives Matter movement has definitely put a spotlight on this area that needs to be addressed. The simple fact is that when the C-suite or the foundation of a business is made up of a diverse group of people, that diversity is woven into the fabric of the company, and trickles down into hiring throughout every department. So investing in and growing minority owned and operated business not only empowers that particular founder but all of the hires that will follow as a part of that company thriving. What I stress to investors looking at promoting and investing in diverse business owners is that diversity provides perspective and a moat around that business. The reason being that the diversity of perspectives you bring to the table as a company lead to different outlooks, opinions, and perspectives that allow your business to grow in areas otherwise unexplored, venture into areas and opportunities otherwise unseen, and provide insights into new markets and territories otherwise unknown.” 

Stefan Smulders

Founder of Expandi.io, a cloud-based software for social selling automation

“I believe with the shift to remote work, we are moving towards a more inclusive global workforce that is connected via the internet, working from anywhere in the world.”

“The challenge of having your business spread all over the planet also comes with some awesome perks. Since we started hiring freelance remote workers from all over the world, diversity and inclusivity have become our strong suit. Our diversity initiative pertains to not only different cultures but also to gender neutrality and those with disabilities. As many jobs are now remote, this has made it possible for people with disabilities to join the workforce and contribute much more than in the past.  The need for a daily commute to the office prevents many people with both physical and psychological disabilities to participate in the workforce. So without question, I believe with the shift to remote work, we are moving towards a more inclusive global workforce that is connected via the internet, working from anywhere in the world. At our company, we embrace diversity amongst employees and try to adapt work based on our employees’ individual needs. Having multicultural employees adds to the company culture, making it a richer and more inclusive place to work. For example, you can learn how to cook new dishes from your co-workers or even learn new languages if you are up for it. In sum, there is no doubt that companies that embrace diversity have more overall benefits compared to those that are more exclusive in their hiring.”

Jessica Rose

CEO @ Copper H2O, an e-commerce social enterprise focused on the health and wellness space

“We make a deliberate effort to find engaged and hardworking staff from marginalized and disadvantaged communities.”

“We are a 100% female run e-commerce social enterprise founded in 2015. Diversity and inclusivity are very important to us and built within our DNA. The first thing a business owner should do to begin building a more inclusive operation is to ensure that their approach to staffing is designed to achieve that end. Simply talking about diversity and inclusivity will not achieve anything unless you are hiring people that fit the bill. In our case, we make a deliberate effort to find engaged and hardworking staff from marginalized and disadvantaged communities. In addition, beyond staffing, we outsource work to contractors who also fit these criteria.”

Finn Cardiff

Founder & CEO of Beachgoer, an AI-assisted eCommerce startup with its own line of beach products

“Having an in-house diversity manager who can develop company policies that reinforce diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as address all kinds of harassment against minority groups keeps diversity training sustainable.”

“Having an in-house diversity manager who can develop company policies that reinforce diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as address all kinds of harassment against minority groups keeps diversity training sustainable. Our diversity manager provides training to hiring managers and HR staff on how to select diverse employees and observe non-discriminatory language in the workplace. When our recruitment team undergoes training with a diversity manager, they apply this to the entire recruitment process from search to onboarding.”

Dr. Vikram Tarugu

CEO @ Detox of South Florida, a leading substance abuse treatment center

“A smart first move is to arrange cultural and other awareness instructions. Also, assess reporting structures and feedback mechanisms for employees to ensure there is a clear channel of communication between managers and their direct reports.”

“A crucial link is the partnership between management and workers. Most people quit their jobs specifically because of a disconnect with their managers. Don’t assume managers understand the importance of diversity in the workplace, or know how to hire and manage a diverse group of employees. Empower them with the requisite skills to develop and maintain a diverse team. A smart first move is to arrange cultural and other awareness instructions. Also, assess reporting structures and feedback mechanisms for employees to ensure there is a clear channel of communication between managers and their direct reports. When diversity is embraced in the workplace, and management is provided with the necessary tools, the workforce’s capacity becomes infinite.”

Shivani Dhamija

Founder of Shivani’s Kitchen, meal delivery and food production company based in Canada

“Here at Shivani’s Kitchen, we have a diverse team – a chef from Jamaica, staff from India, and another employee with a disability. Thanks to our diversity, we are thriving  – bringing many different experiences and skillsets to our workplace and our community.”

“I believe promoting diversity is so important. I myself immigrated from India and when I first moved to Halifax, Canada,  I struggled to find a job in my field (Public Relations). Here at Shivani’s Kitchen, we have a diverse team – a chef from Jamaica, staff from India, and another employee with a disability. Thanks to our diversity, we are thriving  – bringing many different experiences and skillsets to our workplace and our community. I value, recognize, and respect everyone’s unique qualities and attributes. We all do.  I learn from others and what I’ve realised is that having a diverse team allows us to not only better understand one another but also reach different target markets.”

Jonathan Bass

Founder & CEO of Whom Home, a leading manufacturer of home décor, accessories and furniture.

“Brainstorming, idea generation, and creativity are always enhanced with diverse inputs. Diversity brings color to product development and innovation.”

“I think transparency about diversity within the hiring process is the first step to strengthening an organization’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive culture. Make sure you vocalize to the hiring team how important diversity is to the company’s culture. Set up systems to educate employees about the benefits of diversity and promoting inclusivity. Create a diverse culture not only in terms of race, but also in terms of religion or upbringing. Creating a diverse company culture gives you a unique advantage in the marketplace to create products that appeal to a diverse community. It increases innovation by having a multitude of different people with different backgrounds lean into a conversation. Brainstorming, idea generation, and creativity are always enhanced with diverse inputs. Diversity brings color to product development and innovation.”

Kim Chan

Founder & CEO of DocPro.com, a startup legal tech platform offering free legal documents and resources for small businesses

“I would suggest starting with having diversity and inclusion as one of the core values of the company and ensuring that this is communicated to all employees.”

“I’ve realised that having a diversified workforce has enabled us to better serve our customers’ needs. Having an equal and inclusive environment keeps our workforce happy and makes them more productive. I myself have experienced life as a minority and understand what it is like to be in a hostile environment and be discriminated against. I have vowed that the same thing will not happen in DocPro. In terms of advice for other people leaders on how to promote diversity, I would suggest starting with having diversity and inclusion as one of the core values of the company and ensuring that this is communicated to all employees. Setting up an equal opportunity policy stating that the company is against all forms of harassment and does not tolerate any discrimination is also very important. The difficulty lies in hiring the right mix of people. For example, we seem to have more qualified female applicants than male applicants suitable for our roles. Balancing qualifications with diversity is a challenging matter.”

Christy Maria Jose

Senior Manager, People Ops @ InfinCE, an all-in-one collaboration platform for remote work

“Innovation is the key enabler in the days to come and the best way to ignite out-of-the-box thinking is to bring together people who are diverse in various aspects for newer, better, and faster ways of solving the problems in hand.”

“For me, workplace diversity is all about breaking the mental barriers ingrained in us due to the society we live in or our life experiences, and leveraging it to forge ahead in a technologically-powered, global business landscape. Innovation is the key enabler in the days to come and the best way to ignite out-of-the-box thinking is to bring together people who are diverse in various aspects for newer, better, and faster ways of solving the problems in hand. To ensure diversity at the hiring stage in my company, conscious steps are taken to employ diverse job boards and interview panels. Sustaining an inclusive culture is ensured through celebrating global events, maintaining a diverse holiday calendar, implicit bias training, understanding employee concerns through internal communication channels, and conducting one-on-one sessions for employees to get to know each other personally. Covid-19 has opened up new possibilities for our business in terms of hiring people without physical or location limitations, and has also helped our employees stretch their skills and apply their new talents at work.”

Cory Colton

Founder & Principal Executive Coach @ Inflection Point Coaching, leader and executive, group, and team coaching provider

“If we do not have diverse people in our employee base that represent our communities, we will not have all of the voices necessary to succeed.”

“The business case is clear—our companies and businesses must represent the communities we serve to ensure that all customers and clients feel represented, welcomed, and valued.  If we do not have diverse people in our employee base that represent our communities, we will not have all of the voices necessary to succeed. Diverse representation and inclusion of voice and thoughts, whether by race, gender, nationality, language, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation, helps us all become better. If you think that there is room for improvement in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion at your workplace, turn over all the rocks, and keep digging deeper and asking why!  The surface numbers never tell the whole story. People may be sitting at the table, but their voices may not be heard! Don’t be afraid to be curious and learn from others, have the tough conversations, and be comfortable with the discomfort.  This type of mission, to ensure everyone who wants to be there can be, and that everyone who is there is heard, involved, and valued is not meant to be comfortable.  It took centuries to build the systems that purposely or accidentally leave some people out, so it may take decades of discomfort to make it right!”