June 5, 2017

Authentic Inclusion: meritocracy, not mirrortocracy.

More and more people have been reaching out to me to have the conversation surrounding Diversity and Inclusion [companies ranging from startups to multinationals]. To each one of them, I shared what I will share with you now. The discussion should start with a standard definition of what ‘Diversity’ and ‘Inclusion’ actually means. For me it is as simple as this:

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)

  • Diversity is about bringing people together from a wide variety of backgrounds
  • Inclusion is about having their voices heard and acted upon
Let’s start with ‘D’, and get to ‘I’

Diversity covers how you retain talent from different backgrounds. The topic that gets the most attention is at the top end of the funnel, recruitment. In truth, unconscious bias is baked into the standard current hiring processes. For example hiring managers deeming graduates from Stanford, MIT, Oxford or Cambridge as “low risk”. The actual risk is the creation of a “mirrortocracy” [rather than a meritocracy]. It is only at times of crises such as the financial one of 2007/2008 do we remember the adage, “the same thinking will keep leading us into the same problems.” Thus the question remains: how do you identify the single mom working at McDonald’s Monday to Friday but is learning to code on the weekends?

Outside of recruitment, similar challenges exist with Investors who are unwilling to acquire the cultural context to understand the problem entrepreneurs are trying to solve [which lay outside their frame of reference]. Therefore they not only miss out on a potentially great investment opportunity but also end up marginalizing and excluding a founder from a diverse background e.g. a mother who wishes to solve a fertility problem like the startup Woom.

Ok, so now here is the ‘I’ in D&I

Back to the example of the technologist single mother. If she is hired, then the focus shifts to inclusion. How do you provide an environment where she feels at home and wants to keep coming back? Is it possible for her to enjoy work so much she becomes an advocate and advises others to join the mission/enterprise/organisation? It starts with conversion.

  • Do you feel safe walking home in your neighborhood at night?
  • Was it expected in your family for you to go to university?
  • When you were growing up, did you read children books with characters that looked like you that you identified with?

These conversations enable you to understand the paradigms of your colleagues. For example, the first question may reveal why they don’t stay late at events or socials after work because they may not feel safe going home late. This helps you recognize that someone else had a different experience of how they move through the world because of their background. This insight should serve as the basis for tailoring the work environment to make it more inclusive for ALL who bring themselves to work.

Diversity and Inclusion are critical and in a perfect world would come naturally. But until then, I encourage you all to continue to feel comfortable and well equipped to have these conversations at home, at work, and with friends.

Image by WOCTechChat

Andy Ayim

Andy is Managing Director of Backstage Capital London. Previously a Product Manager who has traveled and worked in over 40 countries in the last five years. He is passionate about telling stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds and improving Tech Inclusion.

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