Diversity is much more than gender, colour and culture. Diversity can create a better bottom line, but only if your team is open to the value of a varied workforce. When team-members are all the same, they make all the same mistakes. And Yes: There are simple solutions to even the most complex questions in the field of diversity. These were some of the take-home messages for an audience of start-ups and researchers and students with an interest in entrepreneurship who had all taken an afternoon out to join the “Brew Your Own” event: “Why diversity drives innovation” on March 3rd in Copenhagen Science City.
In an all-star line-up of speakers, Ph.D. and innovation advisor with Innoversity Susanne Justesen set the tone by establishing a fact: The reason diversity can be valuable in a start-up team is, that it brings dissimilar viewpoints to the table in an innovation process. Differing backgrounds come with various knowledge domains and Justesen sees diversity as not just gender, colour and culture, but also generation, education and work experience. Her principal advice to start-ups is to think less in terms of diversity and more in terms of avoiding homogeneity, and she presented three “Homogeneity hacks”.
Make sure your team is 70% homogenous or less.
Map the differences on your team to raise awareness of them.
Always let the least homogenous member of the team speak first at meetings.
Network your way to diversity
The next speaker, Florence Villeseche, is an associate professor at Copenhagen Business School. She presented evidence, that the highest performing teams boast a 50/50 gender diversity. However, she cautioned that no amount of diversity can help a company grow its bottom line or its innovative power, if the dominant group in the company ignores the value of divergent viewpoints. Cultivating a culture of openness is key to making diversity work for a team. Villeseche also pointed out, that when a start-up team is too small to be diverse, it can network its way to diversity. For example by finding mentors that are different from the core team, getting a diverse advisory board or finding collaborators, clients or subcontractors who are nothing like the founders.
Think again before hiring friends
Liva Echwald-Tijsen is the founder of grass-roots movement Female Founders of the Future. After reminding the audience, that 98 percent of start-up funding in tech still goes to all-male start-ups, she insisted that there are simple ways to start fixing this problem. First piece of advice is to approach the problem with an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurs should always challenge their own assumptions, and just as you would build, measure and learn to improve your product, so you should do with your team. She suggested that women who wish to become board members should volunteer as start-up mentors, arguing that CEO’s will often choose a mentor for their board. She also warmly cautioned against uncritically hiring staff or finding cofounders within the closest circle of friends and family, but her simplest piece of advice was this: Tell everyone around you, that you want your start-up team to be diverse. Then act, grow and tell.
The simplest way to achieve diversity is to mix gender. The second simplest thing is to hire international talent, but there are pitfalls. Laura Wintemute is the founder of Homestead, a mobility service, which focuses on the human aspects of relocation. She explained that more than half of all relocation failures come about, because the family of the international employee has a hard time settling in. Danish authorities have made the practical side of relocation much easier in recent years, for example thanks to City of Copenhagens’ International House. Unfortunately, Wintemute finds that companies still underestimate the family’s role when they hire abroad. Her human mobility hack is to focus on transition and find a family mentor. A helping hand that is not part of the hiring company. Such a mentor can help with the daily challenges expats face such as finding childcare, schooling, medical help, after-school activities for the kids and much more.
Cultures will clash
Considering how difficult it seems to get foreign talent to stay in Denmark, it is reasonable to ask why anyone in their right mind would hire them. Charles Henri Gayot is the founder of sports tech start-up StepUp Solutions. He has a staff of 14 representing nine nations. Four of these are women. One third have business backgrounds, two thirds come from tech. He insists that if you hire staffers that are all similar, they will all have similar mentalities, all come up with similar results and all make the same mistakes. While freely admitting, that culture clashes will happen, he asserted, that it is vital to be critical of your own culture, and that views from another culture will usually add something better than what you got from your own.
Networking for start-up wannabees
The event attracted an audience of over thirty, spanning start-up founders and researchers and students with an interest in entrepreneurship. After a networking session featuring exotic beers and soft drinks, the “Brew Your Own”-event concluded with a panel discussion, where all the speakers answered questions from the audience.
Brew Your Own is a series of events aiming to be a source of inspiration, information and interaction between start-up-founders and researchers and students with an interest in starting businesses or joining start-ups. The events are co-created by Copenhagen Science City and Biopeople. Their location rotates between innovation district stakeholders. This one was hosted by start-up community COBIS.