Developing Diversity + Inclusion in an Early Stage Company

Gladly Team

Read Time

5 minute read

Created in partnership with Margie Mader-Clark, VP of People, Gladly

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By Margie Mader-Clark, VP of People at Gladly

In my 20+ year career, I have joined four different start-ups when they were 30 people or less. This interesting stat apparently qualified me to join a widely-esteemed panel of speakers at last week’s SaaStr Conference here in San Francisco (FYI: the team at SaaStr undertook a crazy thing when they set a goal of having 60% of the over 250 speakers represent minorities, and they nailed the goal!).

The panel I participated in was (succinctly) titled “How to Move Forward: Build, Measure & Scale Diversity & Inclusion at Every Stage with Costanoa, Gladly, and Periscope Data”; I owned the “Getting Started/Early Stage” piece.

Luckily for me, Gladly, my most recent – and current – employer provided all the inspiration I needed. What follows are a few excerpts from my portion of the talk.

Finding room for me

By far, the most successful example of diversity that I’ve seen is at my current company: Gladly is a customer service platform that does away with ticketing and cases, and instead, focuses on putting people back at the center of the experience to help companies achieve five star customer service.

And with the idea of ‘people at the center’ being a core business value of the company, putting people first in our customer centric culture was a natural extension.

When I first walked in to interview, I saw a space that – while adhering to the Silicon Valley norm of open spaces, polished concrete, and exposed ductwork – had touches of warmth: great employee pictures on the walls, a well-used common area, comfortable chairs and couches. It was a space that had room for me.

Then I met with three men and three women, of whom three were Asians, one Hispanic, one Irish and one Italian, and one from Milpitas. Their ages spanned between 25 to 55. It was a diverse and fascinating interview panel, and their questions were varied, well thought-out and incisive. It was a demographic that had room for me.

During my first staff meeting, the structure quickly became apparent. Give an update, collect the thoughts and comments of others, incorporate feedback thoughtfully, and make your own work better for it. Then provide the same for your peers. There was no competition to sound smart. Not all the ideas were perfect. And you owned separating the wheat from the chaff. But every piece of input, and the person giving it, was respected and valued. There was room for me here.

Translating D&I Into Action

To really move the needle, diversity needs to be more than an ‘on-trend’ line in your company’s list of objectives or a set of metrics on your website – weave it into the fabric of your culture as early as possible, and make sure the message is reinforced in demonstrable ways.

Make diversity and inclusion a business imperative

Diversity and inclusion isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a significant business imperative as well. Besides financial gains — companies in the top quartile for racial or ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to gain financial returns above industry averages — a diverse team helps make your product or service better. Because if you’re building something that’s meant for everyone, it makes sense to have those perspectives be a part of the development and sales process.

Start with the end in mind

Think about the makeup of your company from the very beginning. You will initially hire people you know or worked with before because, in their familiarity, you find comfort, ease of work, and built-in trust. It is a great way to quick-start an organization. After that, you will quickly need to pay attention to the make-up of your team. Building a team quickly that is too comfortable can be the enemy of innovation, perhaps success, and most definitely diversity. Instead, think of familiarity as a trigger for exclusion, and use that trigger to consciously decide to bring different points of view to the forefront.

Bake it into your company goals

Diversity and inclusion should be baked into your company goals, so you can identify the targets you’re striving for, and can plan on how you can meet them. But it doesn’t stop there — make sure you have clear deadlines for those goals, and be prepared to hold feet to the fire if they’re not achieved.

Challenge your hiring managers and whole team

It is tempting to think that you will have a diverse workforce if you challenge or goal your recruiters to make it so. But the whole company needs to be involved, including your hiring managers. That means being flexible with job descriptions, drilling down to what you need the employee to accomplish and not extraneous criteria like where they went to school. Don’t block off talent, right off the bat, for factors that don’t actually have anything to do with the job.

Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing journey that needs to be nurtured. Make sure you’re actively fostering and promoting the growth and learning of minorities in your organization. Tick regularly through a little “inclusivity checklist:” Is our environment welcoming to all? Do we consider diverse opinions in our decision-making? Are we doing more than simply measuring our diversity? Do our company events appeal to everyone? And do we make it easy for people to work here?

At the end of the day, working with people who challenge you, who teach you new ways of thinking, and who tackle problems differently than you do make you, your product and your company, better. Don’t be afraid to celebrate diversity at your office similar to our customer service week ideas. Letting your employees know that you appreciate and celebrate the diversity at your company can be a huge difference maker. Make it a business imperative. Gladly does, and we are reaping the benefits!