Lu Li is the Founder and CEO of Blooming Founders and contributor to our latest eBook Mastering Diversity – How to Nurture an Inclusive Team. In this Q&A she speaks about how to attract and retain minorities to an industry with a dominant demographic.
Q: How do you nurture an inclusive team in an industry with a dominant demographic?
A fish rots from its head down. Or in other words: an inclusive team starts with inclusive leadership. It is C-level responsibility. So in case your leadership team lacks diversity (which they probably will), they must at least demonstrate inclusive leadership traits – or nothing will change. It is important that they are not just committed to inclusion because ‘that’s what you need to do these days’ or because HR demands it, but because they believe in the business case and (in an ideal scenario) because it aligns with their personal values and ethics system.
Driving inclusion ultimately means promoting fairness, no matter what nationality, skin colour, sexual orientation, age or background, and giving everyone the opportunity to achieve what they should be able to achieve. This is the fundamental belief I have in my work at Blooming Founders, which translates into the mission of “Providing female founders the same opportunities as male founders”.
It might sound trivial, but the reality is that there are more barriers for women in the startup ecosystem than there are for men. We see unconscious bias during fundraising and a lack of dedicated support systems in terms of network, spaces and content.
As a leader in this area, I need to make time and invest resources to address these topics and change the status quo. Equally, a leader within an organisation must invest resources to showcase that inclusion is a true business priority. He/she needs to build an aligned understanding of the business case and a shared aspiration of fairness. And they need to work with the team to see if there are any processes or structures in place that lead to unconscious bias, groupthink or expert overconfidence.
For example, in a team of 9 dominant males, it can be tough for the only woman at the table to raise her voice, even when she is typically quite dominant herself.
Her opinion can also be discounted by the men, leading her to feel unappreciated or even humiliated. Nurturing an open mindset, a desire to understand other perspectives and a high tolerance for differences are all key to nurturing an inclusive team. Differences should be openly celebrated and communicated in a positive way.
Q: How do you attract and retain minorities?
A place, where there aren’t many people similar to yourself, can make you feel a little alien. In order to change such perception, there has to be initiatives that make you feel welcomed and accepted. For me, I use language and visuals. Blooming Founders has a flower icon and pink and purple colours in its logo to appeal to women. My events are titled “How She Did It” or “The Power Women Chat on Investing” to encourage more women to attend. Initiatives targeted at a certain minority group such as recruiting events for “women in tech”, typically work very well.
Another good option is to produce and share more content about existing minority workers in a certain industry to create more aspirational role models and empower younger generations to consider wider career options.
Include minority workers in executive positions (and invest some serious effort in finding a suitable candidate), as they will not only become a role model to the rest, but also create a higher acceptance of diversity within the current management team through collaborative working.
You can also invest some effort to scout passive or open talent from minority groups and encourage them to try the job.
Alternatively, you can implement blind recruiting in the candidate selection phase to eliminate any kind of bias, which is another interesting concept. Once you have attracted them to your organisation, pay very close attention to how they integrate into the existing culture. If a new minority hire doesn’t integrate smoothly, try to get feedback (in an empathetic, non-threatening way) and think about what you could do to improve the situation. Believe it or not, most minorities never get asked about their opinions, so if you do, then that alone will get you some bonus points – and invaluable employee insights too!
Q: How do you ensure minorities are being given ample opportunity to be authentic rather than trying to fit with the majority?
It’s all about creating an environment where people feel safe to be themselves. For example, you should actively seek the perspectives of minorities in meetings. Give them a voice at the table. Similarly, don’t allow yourself or anyone else to judge quickly when engaging with diverse team members.
You want to hear perspectives that you have never heard before.
Promote social accountability or a ‘fairness-mindset’ amongst managers. Empower everyone to make their own decisions and give them freedom to handle their own projects. A good way to do this is to communicate that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things – there is just ‘different’. This creates an open culture, where people are encouraged to speak up whenever they experience disrespect. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says: “True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”
So turn your leaders into diversity champions and empower them to address conflict or intolerance whenever it arises.