Gigi Thompson Jarvis
Vice President of Content and Marketing, Entrepreneurs’ Organization
The case for diversity in business is rock solid — diversity in race, gender, and ethnicity among employees is repeatedly shown to increase company performance. But in the real world, how are businesses achieving the ideal mix of employee diversity? We asked an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member and the 2019 global champion of EO’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) competition to share their experience around diversity.
Starting the conversation
“I’ve learned that often, people in power will choose a comfortable status quo and risk underperformance rather than be uncomfortable and talk about race. It’s only when we get uncomfortable and truly connect with people who have different life experiences that we personally grow — and our companies grow, too,” says Ryan Buchanan, founder and CEO of Thesis, a Portland, Oregon-based digital marketing agency with 130 employees in operation for 17 years.
Buchanan shared that when EO members get together, the topic of increasing diversity in their purpose-driven companies often comes up. “The burning questions are ‘how do I start?’ and ‘where do I find diverse talent in my industry?’” says Buchanan.
The real question
Buchanan posits that asking how to increase diversity is the wrong question — the real question is how do you create an inclusive company culture to attract and retain diverse talent? That mindset creates a virtuous cycle that draws diverse talent to your company for the long-haul.
“As the top leader in your company, you must role model what it looks like to intentionally build relationships with other professionals of color within your company and within your community,” he says.
“At Thesis, we’ve transformed from 12 percent people of color to 33 percent in just four years, and we’ve done so at all levels of the company. It was painful at times; we parted ways with executives who didn’t align with our values around embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we’ve endured awkward company conversations around race,” Buchanan continues. “It was all worth it. Our intentionality around diversity has created a far stronger, empowering and inclusive company culture.”
There’s also a bottom-line benefit: “Our Fortune 100 clients are choosing to grow with us over competitors because of our diverse talent and unique company culture. In 2019, we grew revenue by 72 percent and profits by 340 percent.”
Diversity in startups
While intentionally increasing diversity is critical in established companies, how are startups handling it? Daniela Blanco was the 2019 Global Champion of EO’s GSEA competition. Her company, Sunthetics, is a New York-based startup focused on developing sustainable manufacturing in the chemical industry.
“My co-founder and I have acknowledged from the beginning that our strength comes from complementing each other. Our personalities and backgrounds are completely different, which allows us to constantly bring new ideas to the table and enthusiastically challenge each other’s points of view,” Blanco explains.
“Diversity brings different perspectives when solving a problem. There is often no easy answer or absolute truth to most of the important issues we face, and that is when different points of view, different backgrounds and perspectives are most valuable.”
Stronger in diversity
Blanco’s company, founded in 2018, enjoys diversity in gender, race, and religion, with a 50-50 gender split and, of six total employees, four different nationalities and three religions.
“I believe diversity makes us stronger because we value and respect each other’s opinions and perspectives. The fact that we are comfortable with how different we are makes it easier for us to disagree openly and find solutions together,” Blanco says. “Our backgrounds shaped us, giving each of us special strengths and teaching us how to handle different situations. When you put them together, you get an integral, groundbreaking team.”
For companies considering implementing a policy to promote diversity, the time is right and the benefits are proven.
“Don’t be afraid to work with someone who is different, because there is always room to listen and learn. Value the perspective that everyone brings to the table. In addition to being incredibly interesting, working with people from diverse backgrounds will make you challenge your beliefs and question what you have always taken for granted, ultimately helping you grow,” Blanco says.
“After all, if everyone thinks the same way, then what’s the point of surrounding yourself with a team?”