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Can you actually make your startup community more inclusive? Yes, here’s how.

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Startup Weekend Nebraska 2015

Lately there’s been a lot of talk—great conversations, in fact—in our community about inclusiveness. Many of us intuitively know what studies have shown: that including more perspectives can make us more productive and our companies more profitable.

More than ever before, we talk about increasing the number of women and minorities in tech, but inclusiveness is more than that. Creating and nurturing a diverse startup culture can mean embracing people of different religions, seeking out people with different backgrounds or life experiences, and generally keeping an open mind as we make a million decisions every day.

Even if you agree that inclusiveness is a worthwhile goal, it can be difficult to know where to start, or how to keep pushing forward. Here are a few simple things that you, your company or your event can do to be open to a wide range of people:

 Events and Involvement

  • Get involved in a variety of groups in your community.  Groups like Ladies Launch Lincoln, Ladies Who Launch-Omaha and LNK Coding Women are open to having dudes attend – everyone is welcome! When Nathan Fryzek worked at FUSE Coworking, he came to all sorts of events and knew all the people at there. He built a lot of trust and goodwill in many corners of the community, and became an excellent source for examples or referrals.
  • Ordering T-shirts for your event? Don’t forget to include ladies tees, too. (Startup Weekend Nebraska rocked this. Hit them up for their vendor.)
  • If you’re putting together a conference or other event, be mindful of your speaker lineup. Here are some great tips for including traditionally underrepresented groups. Some are simple wording changes when putting out a call for speakers. Here’s a great round-up of tips to make that happen.
  • Real talk: There’s only so much time you can spend at meetups and meetings. Connect with the groups mentioned above via social media, then be a contributor and connector. Can you help with information when someone has a question? By all means, jump in! Don’t know the answer but know someone who might? Make an introduction.
  • Be sensitive when scheduling. Don’t schedule your event at the same time as another group within the community. If you wouldn’t schedule an event on Thanksgiving or Christmas, then do the same for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover.
  • Providing craft beer at your event? Awesome! Think about picking up a box or two of wine, and a few non-alcoholic beverages too.

Manage the Issue

  • Speaking of beer, instead of saying “I will only hire someone I can sit down and have a beer with,” try “I want to hire people who challenge me and add to my perspective and the company’s knowledge base.”
  • Have a code of conduct for your employees/visitors and follow through with it. Here’s one that could be a good starting point for your company. 
  • Be transparent about the diversity of your company. Here’s an example. Then be vocal about how you want it to evolve.
  • Walk the talk on all levels of the company—from upper management to the interns, practice talking about inclusivity, calling each other out, and learning from mistakes.

Simple Stuff

  • Please never assume a woman is prowling for dates. Is that why you came to a particular event? How would you want to be treated if you were the new person?
  • Make sure the women’s bathroom is stocked with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. It is much appreciated!

Keep an Open Mind

  • Mentor people who are a little different from you, even when you don’t know much about their business at first blush. Various men have told Stacy Carlson of Gotta Pixel that they can’t help her because they don’t know anything about digital scrapbooking. But those same people might be knowledgeable about finances, managing employees, and any number of other issues. As she put it, “I’m a smart lady. I can take your knowledge and connect the dots and make it relevant to my niche.” And you might just learn something, too.

This isn’t meant to be a definitive list, and we’d love to hear what you would add. What actions do others take that make you feel more included? What has your event or your company done to welcome people with a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and thoughts?  Comment here or—even better—keep the conversation going elsewhere in the community.

 

Contributors: Kathy Andersen, Sandi Barr, Stacy Carlson, Shonna Dorsey, Rahul Gupta, Beth Haubert, Sumeet Jain, Jay Kline, Jill Liliedahl, Amber Pankonin, Shane Reiser, Jennifer Rosenblatt, and Patti Vannoy .