Diversity — everyone agrees that it’s a good thing. After all, it brings plenty of new ideas and creativity to the table, contributed by a team of employees from across the globe. By some measures, having an inclusive workplace can make your organization to have financial returns above the industry average.

Like every other startup, we aspired to put in place a robust diversity initiative that aimed at creating a workplace where everyone could be themselves. Like every other startup, we too found our fair share of learning and challenges from this undertaking.

We discovered a lot in our first year on the never-ending journey of creating a more diverse workplace but if I were to write them all, I’d probably end up writing a 400-page novel. So here are the most important things we learned from our efforts:

Set Realistic, Achievable Goals

Things worth having don’t come easy.

It might seem cheesy, but this quote really illustrates how tough diversity goals can be to achieve. To get there, a lot of work has to be done by a lot of different people, but it all starts with a single thing — the goals you set.

Setting reasonable and realistic goals is paramount to your efforts. They give the initiative a concrete direction to move towards and keep your organization on track.

Clearly defining what you want to achieve is a great way to get started. Create an end goal in mind, and then work out a strategy that will directly help you achieve it.

For example, we started our diversity initiative with our engineering team in mind. We aimed to increase the proportion of female engineers in the team from 25 per cent to 30 per cent within a year and centered our talent hiring efforts around this goal. Through this goal-first approach, we managed to achieve this in less than 7 months after we had started.

Quotas Are Never Enough

Hiring quotas are really powerful — in fact, it was our go-to move when it came to improving our headcount. But quotas aren’t enough to nurture an inclusive culture in the company.

What most startups and organizations might fail to realize is that diversity doesn’t end at hiring more members of minority groups or promoting more female employees to leadership positions. The real challenge is to be able to successfully inculcate a culture of inclusiveness and belonging.

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We quickly realized that some problems remained even though the numbers we had been focusing on were improving. That’s when we added new tools to our diversity arsenal:

(Anonymous) Workplace Surveys

We started sending out weekly surveys to all our employees to get their honest and anonymous feedback on their satisfaction at work. We made sure to include at least 2-3 questions centered around diversity and how inclusive the employees found the workplace to be.

Weekly Town Halls

Having small pockets of employees around the world has its advantages — we made sure to have a weekly town hall in every office. We used this opportunity to get even more feedback, suggestions on upcoming events and updates on the development of our products. I personally made sure to attend every single meeting so that I could hear everything first hand.

Diversity Sit-Downs

Taking a page from Stack Overflow’s book, we started our very own diversity sit-downs to get a conversation started and have everyone share their experiences on the topic at hand. It was completely voluntary, conducted over Silicon chat, and focused on a specific topic like ‘Work-Life Balance’ or ‘Parenting’. Having a candid conversation with each other really helped us develop the open and welcoming culture we are proud to have today.

After implementing these 3 steps, our grounded and more hands-on approach to workplace diversity really paid off. The surveys we sent reflected that more and more employees found the culture at work to be open, welcoming and friendly. Our numbers went from a cool 60% satisfaction with diversity to a whopping 94 per cent within 8 months.

Empathy Is The Most Powerful Tool You Have.

Everybody has faced some sort of discrimination in their lives. Maybe you were excluded from a group, ignored at a restaurant. Maybe it might have been something much worse than just silent discrimination. Whatever it may be, you know how that felt like.

As painful as it can be, recalling that nasty incident and empathizing with your co-workers is probably the best thing you can do. Having the entire team personally identifying with the motivations behind your diversity efforts can go a long way in making them successful.

Empathy to the experiences and the challenges faced by your co-workers is the most powerful tool managers can have. When the leadership feels connected to the goal and driven by its purpose, the likelihood of the initiative succeeding will skyrocket.

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In all our efforts like the sit-down chats and the town halls, the key element was always empathy. Understanding what people were saying and where they were coming from was paramount to the success of our initiative.

Creating a culture in a company is easier said than done. In fact, it might be harder than building your product. However, the benefits that an inclusive workplace and culture bring with that immensely outweigh any hurdles teams might face.

I encourage every organization to build that culture from within, and not be fixated with the numbers — because numbers don’t tell the full story.

Photo by Ernest Brillo on Unsplash