Build a Solid Foundation: Why Early Investment in DEI is Key for Start-up Success

What comes to mind when you hear the word Start-Ups”?

Start-ups” has become an increasingly common and well-known term in the world today, but it does not apply to all recently-founded organizations, as some people mistakenly believe. While there is also a misconception in thinking of start-ups as simply smaller versions of larger organizations, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term Start-ups”.

According to Steve Blank, a Start-up is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”.

Amidst different views, Start-ups are recently-established companies that typically focus on creating innovative products or services, often in the technology industry. They are known for their ambition, drive to grow, and are often supported by venture capitalists or other investors. 

Established companies usually have a proven business model and are typically focused on executing it successfully. Developing an appealing business model is a primary priority for start-ups as it helps them attract investors and grow their customer base. Sometimes, they have limited resources and are still figuring out how to turn their ideas into viable businesses. 

DEI in the Workplace

Both big organizations and start-ups are increasingly focusing on DEI as a critical part of their corporate values and mission.

Many large companies have a record of generating revenue and profits, and their main focus is to continue to grow and remain competitive in their industry. Typically, they also have a lot of initiatives and programs in place to ensure that their workplace is suitable for employees to remain effective at what they do. One such initiative is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

Oftentimes large organizations have developed comprehensive DEI strategies that include training, recruitment, and employee resource groups to support underrepresented groups and to provide guidance on how the company can improve its DEI efforts.

While building a diverse and inclusive company might not be a priority for most start-ups, it’s absolutely possible to take intentional steps toward creating an inclusive culture without losing sight of the broader goals. Prioritizing DEI is a key decision that every start-up should consider. It’s important to keep in mind that the traditional methods for larger organizations may not always be the best fit for start-ups. Instead, a more flexible approach to DEI may be needed to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Start-ups might not have robust DEI practices but are often established with DEI principles in mind. For example, the language learning app, Duolingo, has made diversity a key part of its hiring process. The company has implemented blind resume reviews, which remove identifying information from job applications, to reduce bias in the recruitment process. Overall, DEI is becoming an increasingly important aspect of workplace culture, and both established organizations and start-ups are recognizing its value. While larger organizations may have more resources to devote to DEI initiatives, start-ups are often able to build DEI into their company culture from the ground up. Regardless of the size of the organization, promoting DEI in the workplace is critical to create change in the culture of organizations so that the workplace becomes an ideal place for employees to thrive, irrespective of their identity, experience, and perspectives.

In addition to fostering equitable and inclusive workplaces, there are several practical and financial benefits for organizations that prioritize DEI. However, it’s not enough to simply acknowledge its importance — it requires purposeful action in both behavior and the development of processes. By consciously implementing DEI practices, start-ups can foster a more welcoming and inclusive environment that benefits everyone involved.

How does prioritizing DEI benefit organizations?

  1. Employee Retention: When employees feel that they are valued and included in the workplace, they are more likely to stay with their employer long-term. This leads to reduced turnover costs and a more stable workforce.

  2. Increased Innovation and Creativity: Diverse teams bring different perspectives and experiences to the table, which leads to more innovative and creative solutions. This helps organizations stay competitive and adapt to changing market conditions easily.

  3. Expanded Customer Base: A diverse workforce helps organizations better understand and connect with diverse customer groups, leading to increased sales, revenue and profitability.

  4. Enhanced Reputation: Organizations that prioritize DEI enhance their reputation as an employer of choice, which can help attract top talent and improve customer loyalty.

  5. Better decision-making: According to Forbes, inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, and the decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results. This becomes a benefit to organizations that prioritize DEI.

From a broader perspective, promoting DEI in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it is also a smart business strategy that leads to improved performance, profitability, and long-term success.

Adopting DEI initiatives isn’t as hard or time-consuming as people think.

Neglecting to invest in DEI initiatives in the early stages of start-up development can have negative consequences in the future. Not doing so can limit the ability to attract and retain diverse talent, potentially becoming a bottleneck for start-ups.

Introducing DEI initiatives in start-ups at a later stage of their development could prove to be significantly more challenging, expensive, and labor-intensive compared to implementing them during the early stages of the company’s growth. 

While we need to debunk the myth around DEI and start-ups, it is also important to set the table right. DEI is not just a nice-to-have” attribute for start-ups; it is a critical component for building a successful and sustainable organization. By prioritizing DEI initiatives early on, start-ups can reap all the benefits of DEI, which larger or long-established organizations enjoy. Start-ups will also enjoy a workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent, promoting heightened innovation and creativity.

A major challenge that start-ups face with prioritizing DEI is where to start. While this can pose a major concern for start-ups, it really is an easy-to-solve challenge. Let us quickly delve into how start-ups can begin to plan and implement DEI within the organization. 

First of all, it is very important to understand that DEI will have a positive impact on every organization that adopts it. DEI is a continuous process and should not be misunderstood as engaging in one – off” initiatives that aren’t tied to a fulsome strategy of change. DEI is a valuable asset in organizations and healthy DEI transformation utilizes processes and tools that all organizations, including start-ups, can benefit from, especially when the investment is done at an early stage.

How can start-ups show an investment in DEI

  • Leadership and management team actively support and promote DEI

  • Recruitment and hiring strategies that promote the inclusion of diverse talents are initiated 

  • Inclusive workplace policies and practices are explored and adopted

  • Expert-led DEI training and education is part of all employees’ L & D

It is very easy to get caught up in initiating one-off” DEI-related projects (e.g. lunch n learns, cultural celebrations, one-time training events) and feel like you are tackling DEI effectively. Rather than just seeking out quick fixes such as these, it’s essential to approach DEI as an ongoing process of learning, growth, and organizational development, which start-ups should prioritize and invest in. 

How MESH/​diversity supports start-ups:

Now that we understand the need for start-ups to invest in DEI at an early stage of their growth and development, it is very important to note that creating and implementing DEI initiatives in the right way is critical to success. MESH/​diversity programs like DEI Builder and Inclusive Leadership have been developed precisely for this purpose and our perfect for start-ups looking to grow, scale, and embed DEI in their organizations. 

Our platform offers a data-driven, quantifiable method for organizations to invest and develop DEI initiatives. MESH helps start-ups and other organizations to build a DEI strategy that’s unique to your organization and get you on track to creating and achieving your DEI goals and objectives. Book a demo today and learn how we can help your team promote systemic, sustainable, and scalable DEI change in your organization.