Prioritizing Diversity from the Early-Stages

Keith Corso
7 min readAug 2, 2021

At BusRight, a transportation technology startup, we strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds because it’s a key ingredient to sustainable and high-impact businesses and, “The best people want to work on the best teams. And the best teams are diverse teams.” — Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot.

Following our recent $2.5M Seed financing, part of my role has evolved into a recruiter until we welcome all key hires onto the team — then I’m passively recruiting indefinitely. A normal week of recruiting consists of proactive outreach to candidates on LinkedIn, reviewing inbound interest, scheduling and participating in interviews, exploring new talent communities in various corners of the internet, and more. Spending time, resources, and energy on recruiting is time away from other value-added activities. This is why the tradeoff between increasing your efforts in seeking diverse candidates can be hard to justify in the early days for teams that arent’ acutely aware of the long-term benefits. I’ve read books, reviewed articles, listened to podcasts, and talked with experts about creating a space that attracts diverse talent and how to source such talent. And yet, diversity is still a challenge at our company. In everyday vernacular, diversity is defined as a function of social identities such as race, heritage, sexual orientation, class, and more. When we mention diversity in this article, we are referring to a subset of diversity known as cognitive diversity, “differences in how people perceive, encode, analyze, and organize the same information and experiences.” Page, S. E. (2019).

Like many venture-backed startups, we are on the race track to deploy our capital raised and achieve ambitious milestones. Building at this pace can cause some to overlook setting the foundation of what’s most important — the people on their team. In the earliest stages (pre-seed through Series A) of a company’s life cycle, each team member has a disproportionate impact on company culture, values, and the company’s success more broadly.

For BusRight, and many companies now realizing the upside of diverse teams, we want to ensure we’re intentional about the culture we create and who can influence it. To better understand the upside I’m referring to, see below for several perspectives and statistics on why this topic is pivotal.

  • The top 25% of organizations in both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to outperform their industry peers on profitability by 33% (McKinsey, 2018)
  • Without diverse perspectives and experiences in designing, building, and testing, products can and will fail female and minority users (New York Times, 2017)
  • While 72% of startups surveyed said that diversity was important, only 12% employed five or more employees belonging to underrepresented minority groups (Techstars D&I Survey, 2020).

Despite the challenges of recruiting and retaining a diverse team, the long-term benefits of doing so are hard to dismiss.

BusRight’s Hiring Approach

At BusRight, we have implemented multiple strategies to create a more diverse pipeline during the hiring process. This has been done with an understanding of the benefits outlined above and the guidance of other technology companies that will soon follow.

To start, we knew that we needed to be proactive in adding diverse individuals to the top of the funnel in our hiring pipeline. If we wanted a team that is as diverse as the users we serve, we learned we needed to do the following:

  • Tap into talent communities. We paid to post our opportunities on specific job boards like RemoteWomen and asked peers to share our careers page in Slack communities for women and other underrepresented groups in technology. Other communities we suggest looking into are Coalition for Queens, Code 2040, and Power to Fly.
  • Reach out proactively. A diverse mix of candidates won’t derive from solely inbound applicants and referrals. In fact, “men are statistically more likely to refer male candidates than women are to refer female candidates” (Betsy Ludwig, Executive Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University). We leveraged LinkedIn’s advanced search feature (you can filter based on geography, industry, current/former titles, degree of connection, and more) to source candidates and specifically engage minorities. Over several weeks, we messaged ~880 candidates, of which more than 80% were minorities. Below is the automated dashboard we created that would update our progress. Reach out to me (keith@busright.com) if you want a template.
  • Include diverse team members in your interview process. This can help protect against implicit biases, unlock new perspectives, and allow candidates to meet the broader team they could be working alongside.
  • Use evidenced-based recruiting practices. For example, we deprioritized the importance of one’s educational background as evidence suggests that it is not always representative of a candidate’s ability and potential.
  • Track your performance. We use Workable for our applicant tracking system along with their built-in careers page. By doing so, we centralize hiring efforts from several job boards into a digestible view.

In addition to the actions outlined above, the BusRight team also sought input from the outside-in.

  • We hired Tatiana Becker, the founder of NIAH Recruiting — a boutique staffing agency specializing in sourcing diverse talent. She, along with her colleagues, support BusRight with introductions to candidates outside our existing networks.
  • We partnered with Rich Paret, who has experience recruiting and leading technical teams at Google, Twitter, and Crashlytics. We were a beta customer of his new company, Tenarch — a hiring system that’s rooted in evidence-based practice and helps teams hire with speed, quality, and diversity.

One of the most helpful practices he shared was how to design our overall interview structure. See below for his initial notes and learn more at The Career Story Interview.

Diversity also extends beyond the hiring process. To enable an ongoing company culture that emphasizes inclusivity, we did the following:

  • Assembled a diverse advisory board and group of investors. We have been fortunate enough to partner with world-class operators and investors such as Cyan Banister, Kendall Tucker, Polina Raygorodskaya, Lily Lyman, Soona Amhaz, Cindy Bi, Ellen Chisa, and Minal Hasan. We recognized we had a choice in who we partnered with and wanted to use this as an opportunity to show the BusRight team that diversity is essential throughout all stakeholders.
  • Offer sustainable and inclusive benefits. Through benefits, we wanted to enable our team members to do what’s best for them when needed — whether it’s compassionate leave, mental health days, or mandatory PTO. We also saw benefits as an opportunity for self-development and continuous learning — whether via our optional book club or industry chats with world-class founders, investors, and operators like Polina Raygorodskaya, Michael Skok, and Julie (Devaney) Hogan.

Learning from Others

Throughout our continuous learning journey, we’ve turned to companies such as HubSpot, Trust & Will, and Knoq for inspiration.

HubSpot:

  • Hired Celeste Narganes as their Director of Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging. While early-stage companies may not have the resources to invest in a full-time D&I role, it should be embodied by everyone and led by senior leadership.
  • Published Culture Code — written by Dharmesh Shah (CTO). The company’s commitment to transparency across all functions is admirable. For example, they made all employees “insiders” before going public which allows the entire team to have access to company financial data before it’s published.

Knoq:

  • Published Tips for Hiring Women in Tech — written by Kendell Tucker (CEO). Her recommendations ranged from the CEO serving as the primary recruiter, being mindful of the language used in job descriptions, including a D&I disclaimer in all job postings, and more.

Trust & Will:

  • Written about in San Diego’s Union-Tribune, Building a diverse, inclusive workplace takes conviction. Cody Barbo (CEO) emphasizes advocating for each potential hire to understand how the candidate may add value to the team.
  • Stresses the importance of bringing family life into the company. As Cody explained, “Family is one of our company’s core values, and it’s very visible at Trust & Will. We all make an effort to know everyone’s spouses or kids; we celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and even our furrier members of the family’s birthdays.”

Looking Forward

I believe that part of the solution to this complex challenge lies in the hiring and retention process. This article briefly covers the hiring process, but that’s just the first step. Retaining a diverse team is where companies realize the Diversity Bonus, Page, S. E. (2019). Culture is a large part of the retention equation and one that I will focus on in a separate article.

Ensuring you have a diverse team across all departments, will result in better products, a more competent team, and a higher chance of building a successful business. This impact all starts at the early stages.

There are several ways to define diversity, achieve the benefits of a diverse team, and measure its impact. Further steps can be taken beyond what’s shared in this article. We hope that by sharing a few of our learnings, we can foster an open dialogue that leads to a world we feel proud to work and live in.

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Keith Corso

Building the future of ground transportation, and meeting interesting people over vanilla lattes.