3 Things Companies Can Learn About Creating Inclusive Cultures From This All-Female Tech Startup
Important lessons for companies of all industries and sizes.
When it comes to building diverse teams, there’s no magic formula for attracting and retaining talented candidates from all backgrounds. Founders, hiring managers, and human resources departments grapple with finding the best approach and implementing the right strategies, revamping everything from their interviewing methods to their search for talent. Regardless of which methods are tested, there’s one essential part of building a team that has little to do with pipeline – and that’s creating an inclusive culture.
An inclusive culture means that everyone feels valued, heard, and welcomed. While it sounds simple, sometimes the building blocks of an inclusive culture are never established, causing companies to lose out on talented candidates during the interview process or through employee turnover. Employers that focus on creating inclusive company cultures from the beginning will have a better shot at attracting and retaining a diverse range of talent.
mRelief, for example, is a non-profit tech startup that helps individuals gain access to social services through a web-based or text messaging tool. In a startup landscape where only 28% of startups’ founding team include women, mRelief has two female founders and a team – including technical talent – made up of all-women. We spoke with Zareena Meyn, Growth & Partnerships Manager at mRelief about her experience working with an all-female team, and the key lessons on creating an inclusive culture that companies of all sizes can learn from.
1. Don’t undervalue empathy – embed it into your culture.
As a non-profit, empathy is one of mRelief’s core values. But companies don’t need to be in the non-profit sector to create a culture of empathy.
“I think that empathy, especially in the tech industry is missing” said Meyn. mRelief, on the other hand, “is inclusive, supportive, and empathetic,” which made Meyn feel welcome as a woman entering the tech industry. It’s an essential component of an inclusive culture, according to Meyn, and it’s one mRelief achieved by “creating an atmosphere that is conducive to sharing.”
By sharing responsibility and sharing successes, Meyn believes mRelief has been able to establish a “tight-knit team” that is truly special. “This is a community where we’re all working together and we’re proud of each other when we do something great. Even though we’re coworkers we really care about each other and the work we do, and you can feel that when you’re in the office.”
Regardless of the size of your team, ensure that your employees feel that they are working in a caring, non-judgemental environment. When employees can bring their whole, authentic selves to work, that sense of belonging can make a big difference in attracting and retaining talented candidates.
2. Maintain a close community with small teams and ensure everyone can be heard.
One thing that certainly sets mRelief apart from other companies is its size. There are currently nine people working at mRelief, which Meyn believes helps maintain the respectful and inclusive culture. Although it’s not realistic for every office or company to remain small, there’s value in how mRelief’s size creates a sense of comfort and recognition among its team members.
“I think that in larger offices, there’s an atmosphere where women have to try harder to be seen and heard,” Meyn explained. However, after coming to mRelief, she noticed that the close-knit and overall atmosphere “felt more inclusive” than in her previous positions. In citing examples, Meyn discussed a typical activity in every company: team meetings. At mRelief, the entire team attends weekly team meetings where members can express opinions, concerns, or thoughts about their previous week to each other. However, unlike some companies, the meetings aren’t plagued with constant interruptions or dominated by just a few voices, giving every team member the chance to be heard. For Meyn, having a voice at mRelief has made her feel “more important” than at any of her previous positions.
While all-team meetings may not be possible at larger companies, having smaller and more personal team meetings can help employees feel more comfortable expressing ideas and concerns. Additionally, be sure to establish communication standards that ensure all employees are heard. Establish a no-interruptions rule or give each employee the opportunity to speak up during a meeting.
3. Inclusion starts with hiring, so be intentional and thoughtful when establishing your hiring processes.
Creating an environment that values empathy and gives everyone a voice is an important part of building an inclusive environment. But it's also essential to give your hiring process special consideration and thought to ensure you're including candidates from all backgrounds. At mRelief, for example, in addition to posting on popular job sites like Indeed, they specifically sought out listservs of underrepresented communities, (like LGBTQ folks in tech) as well as reached out to alumni associations at their alma maters.
“You have to get scrappy and creative to find those networks and tap into them. The networks exist and the talent exists, you just have to be creative,” Meyn says.
There are a lot of different recruiting strategies and resources that companies typically utilize when hiring for a new position. Despite this, however, companies can struggle recruiting diverse talent. Consider asking for feedback internally from employees who have already gone through your company’s hiring process. Companies known for an inclusive and diverse culture also educate and train hiring managers on the dos and don'ts of the application, interview, and hiring process according to ADA regulations. Likewise, be aware of certain language used in job postings, which could deter applicants before they even apply. If a diverse range of applicants are not applying to the job, then there is most likely a way to improve your recruiting strategies, job posting language, or even company image online to reflect the growth you would like to see in your workplace.
Creating an inclusive company culture among your team is a process that can take time. However, by utilizing the right resources and strategies from the start, you can build an accepting and inclusive culture that will last. mRelief’s tight-knit and empathetic culture has helped them attract impressive female talent in a time when women and people of color are largely underrepresented in tech startups. While every company will have a different culture, startup founders and HR teams that are working to create a more inclusive culture can take a page out of mRelief's book. Simple things like open communication, empathy, and appreciation can go a long way in creating an inclusive culture and building a diverse team in the early stages.