By Reggie Bradford and Horace Williams
(Originally posted on
Forbes.com. Reggie Bradford is senior vice president, product development,
Oracle; and Horace Williams is director, user experience design at Oracle
It’s clear that diversity in the workplace is
more important than ever—crucial, perhaps. Workplace diversity reinforces how
people from different backgrounds can communicate and cooperate, with common
purpose and good will.
wanted to craft a column, based on personal experience, about an effective way
to create a diverse workplace. In particular, we’d like to show how startups
benefit from a proactive strategy to enlist a wide variety of talent and
We’ve been colleagues and friends for several
years. The startup company where we first worked together, Vitrue, was acquired
in 2012 by Oracle, where we now work together.
At Vitrue, we created a successful—and
much-needed—workforce diversity program. A poll we took before we embarked on
our effort established the extent of the problem: less than 20% of the
workforce was non-white-male (including senior management, which was all white
male). Right before the company was acquired, an eyeball scan of Vitrue’s open
floor plan would have put that number closer to 50%, with minorities and women
represented on the senior management team.
Here are several important lessons learned, and
key takeaways, from our experience.
**There is a strong comfort level when different
people work together.
This may seem counter-intuitive to conventional
wisdom that people are more comfortable with their peers. But, in fact, a
kinship develops within a diverse workforce, a feeling of family. It’s
inviting. It’s energizing. It fosters an atmosphere of social responsibility
and higher purpose. And it contributes to job satisfaction and company loyalty.
** The key to prioritizing diversity is awareness
Vitrue was headquartered in Atlanta, which bills
itself as “the city too busy to hate.” African Americans represent about a
third of the population of the city, yet were under-represented at Vitrue,
particularly in management. A literal “awakening” on the part of the
founder and CEO (Reggie) to the “sameness” of his executive staff set off the
diversity imperative in his head. Then, it took humility for the CEO to
approach a colleague representing a minority (Horace) to ask for advice and
** The natural byproduct of hiring diverse
managers is diverse staff.
This may be the most important takeaway, and it
encapsulates the approach we took to fostering diversity. It wasn’t a mandated,
hard-structured program, deliberately so. Such a forced-march strategy might
work for some companies, particularly in the short-term, but there’s a big
potential downside to it: resentment.
Instead, we decided to build out our workforce
organically, by approaching managers representing minority groups for their
recommendations on new hires. It’s a matter of propinquity. Minorities, racial,
sexual or otherwise, have access to the communities they associate with, and
are the best ambassadors to them. That “trusted network” approach then builds
on itself, literally “growing” a diverse workforce.
Let’s be clear: We’re not recommending that poor
performers be approached to help in hiring just because they represent minority
groups—quite the opposite. The “trusted network” applies in terms of
performance, in the sense that high-performing managers will seek out the
highest performing candidates from their communities.
** If you don’t put this into practice early,
it’s hard to fix later.
And this is why a startup, short on history but
long on seeking the best talent, provides a good platform for establishing an
inclusive organization and work environment.
Diversity is not just a “soft” culture sell.
Entrepreneurs should take note of the “hard” ROI diversity can provide.
1) The earth is flat. If you plan to go global
with your startup, you need a workforce who will embrace and exploit that
geographic, multi-cultural challenge. And you have to go global with your
2) Diversity opens new markets you might never
have heard of otherwise. At Vitrue, which offered cloud-based social marketing
tools (now a part of Oracle’s Social Cloud), we were tipped to a potential
client that was marketing to a minority group on Facebook—by a minority manager
who was being marketed to.
3) Ensuring diversity means that you’re committed
to the best talent. Take a simple example: language. Native speakers can help
broaden your company’s reach in all areas of business: sales, marketing,
support, development, strategy, etc.
It’s not hard to calculate that the advantages
diversity offers—talent, vision, and opportunity—extend all the way up the
workforce ladder. Indeed, the insight and experiences women and minorities
bring to the table are must-haves at the executive table.
As well it suggests, for those individuals and
organizations that provide support for entrepreneurs, diversity should be a
strong factor in their decision-making. Unfortunately, the opposite is the
case. A new study concludes that female- and minority-run startups “are significantly
less likely to raise venture capital or private equity funding than their white
It’s worth noting that an industry group, the
National Venture Capital Association, announced it was establishing a
“Diversity Task Force” to explore ways to increase opportunities for women and minorities as
entrepreneurs and in venture capital.
It remains to be seen what impact a task force
will have on such an insular society. But the effort does point out one
important element of a diversity strategy: You have to want it. If you treat
diversity as a novelty, you won’t prioritize it and do what needs to be done to
make it succeed.
Which is another reason why
entrepreneurs might be our best hope here: the good ones are smart enough to
know how to make things happen. Diversity is a goal that rewards—and deserves—that
kind of effort.