How Entrepreneurs Can Foster An Inclusive Culture In Their Startups (From Day One)

In the midst of launching a startup, one of the crucial components entrepreneurs need to think about is company culture, and the atmosphere they would like to foster as they build their organization.

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In the midst of launching a startup, one of the crucial components entrepreneurs need to think about is company culture, and the atmosphere they would like to foster as they build their organization. Inclusion is one such criteria that needs to be at the top of the list for any startup. An inclusive work environment means including people of determination and those with additional learning needs, people from backgrounds different than yours, and an equal gender divide. An inclusive work environment makes your company “two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets” with reduced employee turnover.

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If you are looking to build and foster an inclusive culture from the get-go in your organization, here are some ways you can:

1. Mission and vision Start off with setting your company’s mission and vision for its team. What is the company culture you want to create? What is your company’s ethos? And within it, how can you ensure you’re building an inclusive environment? Are you actively looking for diverse employees across all levels as you grow your organization? Are women represented enough and equally in your organization? If you’re looking for freelancers or outsourcing to an external company, do they match your organization’s values? Are they inclusive? Are there companies you can work with instead who are more aligned with your team culture?  Having a clear idea of your mission and vision that you can refer back to will help you as you expand.

Related: Five Actions Leaders Should Take In Times Of Uncertainty

2. Facilities When you hire people of determination and those with additional learning needs, you need to ensure that your office is accessible. Are the washrooms large enough? Is it sensory friendly? Are there elevators in addition to stairs? Are the ramps sturdy and wide? Are there quiet areas to work? With COVID-19, many people who are immuno-compromised might prefer working from home. Are you able to support them by providing a laptop stand, a standing desk, or even a second screen to make their work from home more comfortable? Accessible infrastructure shouldn’t be an afterthought. Inaccessibility further contributes to ableism and alienates people of determination and excludes them from the organization. If you’re having a team get-together virtually or in-person, people’s preferences and requirements such as loud music and dietary requirements need to be taken into account. It’s always best to ask the person what they prefer and if there are any restrictions you need to keep in mind. It’s key to facilitate an open and empathetic conversation, so your team member doesn’t feel like they’re asking for too much, or feels hesitant to put forth what they need.

3. Technology Do you have the technology and software needed to support your team who may require it? This can include adding alt text to images, access to transcripts, hearing or voice assistive technology among other things. Once you get started, you will realize how easy it is to procure and incorporate these into our daily lives for an inclusive environment.

4. Time-off and flexibility Trust your team members and their work ethic enough to allow for flexible time off whether it’s to attend to childcare needs, for new mothers to pump, for mental health days, or for taking a couple hours for therapy or doctor’s appointments. Being flexible and mindful of people’s needs are key to building a workplace culture where everyone feels at ease and welcome without constantly scrambling. If your employees aren’t stressed in their personal lives, you’re going to see a positive impact on their productivity at work, as well.

5. Look at how you assign and feedback What works for one team member won’t necessarily work for another. This can include managing their workload, being realistic about your expectations and deadlines, and how you can support them. Instead of verbally assigning tasks, would it be better if these are sent over email, or even using a to-do list with clear guidelines and deadlines, so the person can continuously refer back to it? Work in tandem with your team members, instead of employing a blanket leadership strategy across the board. Some team members might prefer a weekly check-in with regular feedback, while others perform best when they’re left on their own. Find the balance, and see which strikes a chord. It’ll be a work in progress, but once you find what works, it will be a smoother and happier journey for everyone involved.

6. Sensitize your team This is crucial. Bring in a professional who can sensitize the team about neurodivergent team members. The r-word along with “autistic” and “crazy” have become so commonplace in our vocabulary as insults, and they do a lot of harm. Words matter, and these words carry a history of stigma and alienation. It’s important your employees are aware and mindful of their language, so not to further exacerbate the inequalities in society. Do talk about ableism and the do’s and don’ts on that topic. This is also a good time to make employees aware to not speak over women, interrupt them, relegate them, or dismiss them to outdated and patriarchal gender roles.

Related: Rethinking Leadership For The Digital Era

Aakanksha Tangri

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Aakanksha Tangri is founder of Re:Set, a resource platform for fostering gender, inclusivity, mental health and well-being.