Not Every Employee Needs to Look Like You

Startups in particular should embrace multiculturalism in the workplace

Back Web Only Nov 17, 2016 By Gordon Fowler

If anything decisive can be said about our recent national dialogue, it’s that we have a long way to go to create an inclusive America. But here is the good news: Entrepreneurs and small business owners can play a pivotal role in creating a productive and representative workforce.

Fortunately, diversity, whether gender, race, age, sexual preference or religion, (and even a broader definition that includes thought, mannerisms, appearance, intelligence and culture) is an untapped business advantage that we small business owners can prove is real. We can lead a diversity movement because it is the right thing to do for our country, and it can positively impact the bottom line.

I tout the advantages of a diverse workforce when working with the cohort of entrepreneurs at 3fold’s startup initiative, The Glue Factory. The Glue Factory, in collaboration with the Health Education Council and the Roseville Community Development Corporation, is a supportive, co-working environment that provides free workspace and mentoring to homegrown entrepreneurs who understand the value of building community along with their businesses.

Unfortunately, for some startup founders, existing in an environment where achieving success and running out of money are fierce competitors, a temptation exists to hire folks mostly like them, as that course is expedient and comfortable. If interviews align with the familiar, the simplest path is to accept, “a good fit.”

But hires coming from within a founder’s own limited network of acquaintances shuts the door on opposing ideas, alternative processes and an expanded customer base. I advise Glue Factory entrepreneurs to broaden the types of networks they are tapping for a true cross-section of worldview, cultures and skill sets. A strong founding team should be even more deliberate about diversity, especially if they have never suffered from a lack of it.

Our entrepreneurs at the Glue Factory are encouraged to recognize that their sought-after next candidate may be not only looking for their next job, but also for a place to park their bike, practice their religion, feed their baby, cook brussel sprouts in the microwave or flexibility to incorporate an alternative work schedule. Startups particularly need 100 percent buy-in from employees. Creating a place where people of a wide variety of backgrounds feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work is just good business.

Each new employee’s particular frame of cultural reference may be harder to decipher, so when mentoring entrepreneurs, I share with them an ongoing process we practice at 3fold. We have a tradition that gives space for each of us to appreciate each other. We learn a person’s struggles, how they were raised, what they were like in school and what they are passionate about. We call it “20 questions.”

20 Questions is a scheduled time when employees gather and one of them is on the “hot seat.” The rest ask questions designed to reveal the true person. 20 Questions is one of my favorite 3fold traditions, as it’s a time where family traditions, passions and different lifestyles come to work and are on display. And by participating in 20 questions, we learn about — and from — each other, and grow closer as a work family.

20 Questions, or something akin to the concept, garners mutual respect and encourages workplace collaboration. More creative problem-solving takes place when employees know the varied backgrounds, viewpoints and opinions among themselves, and can rely on each other for particular skill sets, cultural input and emotional reassurance.

Diversity in all its forms may seem like a luxury when a startup is scrambling to create their dream. But building a diverse culture has to start from the beginning if companies want to be productive and profitable. As entrepreneurs scale up and take on the responsibility of building a multicultural and multigenerational workforce, the reward, which includes the long-term, positive consequences for our city, state and nation, will become realized.

New and small business must lead the way, one hire at a time. Let’s get started.