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How a silicon valley startup approaches diversity

Building a Silicon Valley-based startup can seem like manufacturing a plane in the air with duct tape.

While established businesses face pressure to redefine work following the Great Resignation, resilient startups are infusing deliberate, purpose-built foundations based on company culture and values to attract and retain talent.

Rather than resisting the rise of digital nomads or unraveling longstanding hiring practices that lacked inclusion, smart startups recognize that an equitable and inclusive workplace will attract and retain a happier and more diverse workforce. Eager job-seekers are looking for their next opportunity in a sea of available options. It is our challenge to positively differentiate ourselves to candidates and break through the noise of a popular market. To stand out, our company differentiates itself in several areas: diversity, hiring practices and overall company culture.

Pre-pandemic, we missed out on a $5MM early investment because we did not score well on a VC’s AI based on our distributed team model. Ironically, we handled the pandemic quite well because we already knew how to work outside an office. Covid-19 has been an accelerant for change and we were uniquely poised because we already knew how to use the remote work toolkit.

A snapshot of women in startups and finance

Currently, only 2.2% of funding goes to female startups — a pretty bleak representation of the innovation that happens in the market. Only 28% of startups have at least one female founder, and a mere 40% have at least one woman on the board of directors. While there are a number of factors that play into these meager statistics, in 2022 we should expect more from industries across the spectrum.

The fire is certainly starting to spread as more women join startup boards and take on executive roles. And there is more; the return is impressive when investors put their money into female-led nascent companies. In a recent study of over 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG determined that women-led businesses delivered more than two times as much per dollar invested than those founded by men. In some cases, VCs could have made an additional $85 million over five-years if they had just spread the wealth and invested equally in women-founded and men-founded startups. Studies show that women entrepreneurs not only outperform all-men teams by 63 percent, but are painted into a corner of pink (food, beauty and fashion).

What factors create a diverse, inclusive and progressive workplace? Focusing on a few new hiring tactics and an emphasis on culture may be what is needed to continue moving the world forward.

Hiring practices that make our team unstoppable

When it comes to sourcing new talent, everyone has inherent, unintentional biases. Our company works to combat this lens by having our applicant screeners fill out a questionnaire specifically aimed at getting to the core of four basic tenets required to fit in to our company:

  • Be the best at what you do

  • GSD – get sh*t done

  • Be a happy person — no grumps!

  • Have your teammates’ backs

This approach allows us to meet each candidate with an open mind and find those who are the very best for the job at hand.

Indeed, recruiting new talent is a different process in every organization. Our short-listed candidates are screened by colleagues in their target department — and cross functional departments — followed by a second screening in the target department and an unrelated department. By engaging multiple individuals in the screening process, even those who may not work directly with each other, we are able to determine both candidate breadth — an important startup attribute — as well as cultural fit.

As management guru Peter Druecker once said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. There are many candidates from which to choose, but those who bring diversity of thought and experience that add to company culture are by far more valuable to an organization than those who have seemingly expert experience but apathy toward a company’s team and values.

Setting the standard / the new normal

Approaching our hiring practices in this manner allows us to promote a healthy company culture from the very start. Positive, empowering company culture is one of the best ways to attract new talent and promote diversity in the workplace. In 2022, having diverse, inclusive teams should be the new normal. The standard of excellence in this era should be measured by more than just revenue figures, it should also be measured by your organization’s rapport with clients as well as your internal team.

We operate on a platform of transparency and unity. As such, we have been able to consistently expand our team, growing from an innovative thinker to 39 industry experts, with half of our executive team being women. This team of happy, smart people who GSD makes for an innovative and collaborative work environment that will forever change the way institutional finance works.

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