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How to Make Your Startup Team More Diverse

The best way to stay competitive is to open up to the power of true diversity.

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It might be human nature to gravitate toward like-minded people, but it's best to save that level of comfort for parties instead of the business world. After all, as a McKinsey report shows, the most successful leadership teams tend to be populated by diverse players.

Caiaimage | Martin Barraud | Getty Images

Knowing this, it might just be time to look at your own company roster to see whether you're lacking in this area.

Linking diversity to profitability

Ask any financial planner what the key to success is. He or she will likely throw the term "diversified portfolio" into the mix. Essentially, the planner knows that the smartest way to mitigate risks is by taking many smaller risks instead of putting all of his or her eggs in one basket. Sure, some will get broken, but not all of them will.

The same holds true for workplaces. Those without any diversity of thought, opinion or expertise will have difficulty innovating or pivoting -- or getting off the ground in the first place. Imagine a business of all sales reps or all technical gurus. The first would have no product to sell; the second would have no one to sell its product.

Investors are taking diversity into consideration when determining which startups deserve capital. They simply feel more confident placing bets on an emerging service or product venture with diverse people at the helm.

As the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has noted, tech's lack of diversity may be hurting its growth potential. Currently, 83.3 percent of tech sector C-suite positions are held by whites, and about 80 percent of tech executives are men. Not only is the public taking notice of this, but so are talented workers who overwhelmingly want to prove their worth at diverse organizations.

If your workplace is lagging behind in terms of diversity, you can start today to make lasting changes. Begin by altering a few of your strategies.

Related: Why Investing in Diverse Companies Will Keep Future Mistakes at Bay

1. Change your job ads and candidate-screening process.

As an entrepreneur, you need to keep diversity in mind when hiring, even if you can only afford to hire a few employees. You may need to consider changing how you define diversity to truly accomplish this task. Christine Alemany, chief growth advisor at Trailblaze Growth Advisors, explains, "It's not just about race and gender. It's about background. While it may be more comfortable to be around people who are just like you, you are selling yourself short by doing so."

Start by considering the gaps in your current talent pool. For instance, multinational giant Sodexo has focused on increasing the number of female executives, aiming to have women make up 35 percent of its top executives globally by 2020. After identifying a gap, help hiring managers and interviewers prioritize what matters before they screen candidates.

Keep getting the same types of résumés? The problem may be biases in your advertisements. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has shown that masculine adjectives, like "competitive" and "determined," deter women from applying. Use the Gender Decoder for Job Ads to comb through your job postings and switch up the language if necessary.

Related: 3 Ways It Pays to Create a Diverse Workplace

2. Stop driving away diverse applicants.

After you revise your job ads and criteria for screening candidates, turn your attention to the interview process. Even if you don't intend to push great applicants out the door, you might unintentionally be doing so. Could it be that the moment a candidate walks into your office, he or she feels like an outsider? If possible, assemble a diverse interview panel to engage with the candidate. Not only will diversity of gender, ethnicity and viewpoint serve to check unconscious bias on the part of interviewers, but it will also help the candidate imagine him- or herself at your company.

And while no one particularly enjoys asking canned questions, using a standardized set of interview questions will ensure that each applicant is treated to the same basic interview experience. Unstructured interviews leave the door open to in-group favoritism and heighten your chances of basing your hiring decision on irrelevant details. By asking interviewees the same basic questions, you'll both be fairer to them and stay focused on assessing whether they have the attributes needed to do the job.

Related: 2018 Top Company Cultures List

3. Put diversity front and center.

Diversity shouldn't be treated like a taboo subject. Focus on making it normal to talk, both internally and externally, about what diversity means for your company without causing stress or raising hackles. To better accomplish this, Lever's chief marketing officer, Leela Srinivasan, argues that "inclusion -- creating the conditions in which employees of all backgrounds feel empowered to do their best work -- needs to come first if you want your efforts to be sustainable."

In other words, if you want to improve diversity, focus on establishing policies and creating a work culture in which everyone -- no matter their race, gender or ability status -- has equal access to opportunities and resources to succeed at your organization. Take a cue from Merck and host a diversity and inclusion experience month to celebrate employee differences. Your goal isn't to hide a lack of diversity, but to bring diverse individuals and customers into the fold.

Related: Why You Need to Focus on Diversity Before It's Too Late

The world is growing smaller, and people are moving from place to place like never before. Embrace the diversity this can bring to your startup, and enjoy the benefits that come from learning about others' viewpoints, ideas and back stories.

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