Among the many reasons that startups fail, a prevailing culture of obstinance and narrow-minded thinking is often to blame. In the male-dominated world of technology in particular, irrational commitment to a particular vision can blind founders and investors to glaring flaws in logic. To combat this, good leaders seek out a diversity of opinion in order to adjust their approach and proceed down a successful path. I’ve learned, however, that pursuing diverse opinions isn’t enough. In order to be successful, founders need to seek out diverse perspectives.
Don’t mistake difference of opinion for difference of perspective
Throughout much of my company’s history, we had an all-male team, even among our numerous external partners. This was unintentional, and as the CEO, I was committed to cultivating a company culture where diverse opinions were valued. As such, there were many instances of team members and advisers feeling very strongly on one topic or another, having heated conversations about our strategy, product and marketing.
However, when reflecting on these conversations, it became clear that the different opinions diverged only in terms of tactics. No matter how strongly people disagreed, deep down we were approaching challenges and decisions from the same perspective. In retrospect, it seems obvious—what do you expect when you put a bunch of technically-minded and relatively young men together in a room to solve a problem? More often than not the result is a set of ideas and solutions that largely align.
Diversity has to be cultivated
We set out to change this dynamic by intentionally cultivating a more diverse team across the board. This meant that we had to put diversity of perspectives at the forefront of our recruiting process, while still focusing on the best qualified candidates.
When we hired more female employees, we found that we were having far more meaningful discussions and making more impactful decisions. The cultural shift was significant and beneficial. I learned that cultivating a culture with many diverse perspectives matters if you want to develop a well-rounded product, strategy and business.
Now when we hire, we look for candidates with perspectives that can challenge us to approach problems differently and think about our company in different ways. It just so happens that in doing so we managed to significantly improve the gender imbalance at BodeTree. Over the past few years we’ve shifted from a 100% male-dominated team to one in which about 43% of our staff is female.
Match the diversity of your team to that of the customers you serve
When we set out to bring a variety of perspectives to the business, we didn’t specifically set out to hire more women. Instead, we worked to create a well-rounded culture that bore little resemblance to the Red Bull-fueled frat house startups with which we’re unfortunately familiar. Our goal was to match the diversity of our team with the diversity of our customer-base, so that every customer felt that they were being represented. By articulating our commitment to diversity up front and regularly stepping back to ensure that we were reflecting the perspectives of our customers, we found that the right candidates continually rose to the top of our list.
Our approach wasn’t a matter of affirmative action for women or any other group; instead, we transformed our company into something that people from a variety of backgrounds wanted to be a part of. We rallied around our mission to better serve small business and our commitment to intellectual honesty, both of which subsequently attracted a unique and highly qualified set of candidates. As a result, our product has improved, our marketing has thrived and our business has entered into a major period of growth.
Startups that fail to seek out diverse perspectives or hire simply for the sake of improving gender imbalance internally are making a grave error. This behavior will only perpetuate existing weaknesses and prevent the business from reaching its full potential. Approaching gender imbalance as a strategic issue and cultivating a culture where diverse perspectives are not only tolerated but valued, will go a long way in helping a company grow and thrive.
This article was written by Chris Myers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.