How to Help Make Your Tech Startup a More Diverse Workplace

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You know the lack of diversity is hurting company, but does your boss, senior leadership and CEO? Here’s how spark change at your job.

By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)

women2-sponsored-blog-postYou love your job. It’s challenging, there’s room for growth, you get build innovative products and features, and the team of developers you work with is one of the most kick-ass group of dudes on the planet.

There’s just one seemingly small problem. You work with a bunch of white dudes. While it’s nice to be respected as “one of the guys,” you wish you had more coworkers who looked like you. Actually, you wish there were just as many people who didn’t look like you at all. Your company lacks diversity, big time.

What can you do to help your boss and senior leadership realize they need to step up their game and prioritize diversity?

To help the Women 2.0 community tackle this problem at their companies, we spoke to Lisa Lee, who heads up diversity at Pandora. (Full disclosure: Pandora is one of our awesome City Meetup sponsors and helped us bring our monthly tech networking event to Oakland.)

Lisa joined the Internet radio and music streaming service last spring to head up diversity initiatives and to create an overarching diversity strategy for the company. She was previously the Diversity Program Manager at Facebook. Lisa is also the woman behind Thick Dumpling Skin, a community for Asian Americans that focuses on body image.

Here are three tips Lisa shared with us that can help you bring more diversity to your workplace.

1. Make Your Managers Aware

Don’t be discouraged if you work for a smaller company that doesn't yet have the budget to make diversity a priority. The goal is to get there, and you can start with a conversation. You likely have regular one-on-one meetings to sync up your manager. That’s the perfect time to bring this up.

“You don’t have to do it in a negative manner,” Lisa says. “You can say something like ‘I love working here, I love what I do, and I love our mission. But I’ve been thinking about diversity in tech a lot. Looking around, I see that it is lacking. You might not have an answer for me right now, but I want you to know that it’s something that’s important to me as someone who work here.’”

You’re not pushing for them to solve the problem immediately, but you’re making them aware that diversity is important to you. Encourage your colleagues to have similar conversations with their managers.

“I feel there is power with numbers,” Lisa says. “Nothing may come of it if one person initiates this conversation, but it will be different if five or 10 people bring it up to their managers.”

2. Share Your Feedback with Your Company’s “Chief Happiness Officer”

Even the smallest of tech startups cares about culture. Your company may have a Chief Happiness Officer or an office coach to keep tabs on employees’ emotional well-being and happiness. We all know that happy employees are more productive ones. So bring on the free lunches! The ping pong tables! The company-sponsored happy hours! And… bring on the diversity.

Next time you receive a survey from your Chief Happiness Officer looking for feedback about new initiatives to keep company culture going strong, mention diversity. “You can say you want these types of Vitamin Water in the fridge,” Lisa says, “and also that diversity is something you care about and want the company to make a concerted effort towards. Don’t be afraid to share your experience as the only or one of the few ___ at work because your story is important.”

3. Start a Casual Group to Brainstorm Ideas

You don’t need a formal program to address diversity at your company. Again, the goal is to get your company to a point where it puts money where its mouth is, but until then, start an after-work group with other coworkers and get together for drinks. “If you find people with similar interests, get together and start to discuss ideas and solutions,” Lisa recommends. “Tech companies love employee-driven initiatives. And good companies will listen.”

In fact, this is exactly how Pandora Women first started. The group now meets once a month to discuss ideas and initiatives for bringing more women to the company, supporting each other, and giving back. Other employee-organized groups, such as Pandora Pride and Pandora Mixtape (for Pandora’s employees of color), are growing. And CEO Tim Westergren is not only noticing, but also embracing and encouraging these groups to have a voice in the company.

“When you self-start a group, whether it’s a group of women or another underrepresented community, think of yourself as having more power than just people getting together for cocktails,” Lisa says.

Though you may start informally, see yourself as more than a group of women hanging out. See yourself as a business resource group, because that’s exactly what you are. “When you get a group together, you have more power to go to a senior leader and say hey, we’re this new group and we’ve been meeting once a month;and here are some of our ideas for creating a better work environment for women and/or encouraging more women to use our product,” she says.

“Self organizing, networking, socializing and forming relationships are important,” says Lisa. “But I also want the employees to know they are empowered to be able to influence the business.”

How else can you inspire change at your workplace?


About the author: Betsy Mikel is the managing editor of Women 2.0 and runs the content consultancy Aveck. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.