Into the Melting Pot
Why “natural” diversity is critical in creating a successful business.
It’s Olympics time. I love Olympics time, especially gymnastics and weightlifting… Everyone loves gymnastics and weightlifting. But seeing all these different cultures interact got me reflecting on the concept of diversity. After all, in an all new low, research has revealed that Fortune 500 CEO’s are about as diverse as an ants nest… 91% are… White and males. Ninety flipping one percent! It’s about now that I want to insert a little “gun emoji” but unfortunately Tumblr hasn’t yet enabled this functionality (I have recently become obsessed with this little characters’ unique abilities to express even the most complex of human emotion in just 12x12 pixels… Anyway, back to the blog.) This stat probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, which is extremely unfortunate. I myself am hit in the face by this fact constantly, usually on an early morning flight to London where no one needs to worry about the emergency slide being ripped open by a high heel… Because the plane crashing is nearly more likely than women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list…
But before you think this is going to be a man bash, stop right there. In this post I am going to talk about “diversity” in it’s entirety, placing emphasis on culture. Not just men vs women or the colour of one’s skin, but rather, diversity as in people from completely different places, backgrounds, personalities, sexual orientations, years of birth, food allergies, preference of country music or favourite sporting brand… The chalk and cheese, oil and water type of company cultures.
I know the topic of diversity is gaining momentum. Large and small corporations alike are incentivised to hire diversely. But this is also the reasons I placed the world “natural” in the sub-heading. All too often companies have set “quotas” for which they have to fill. Quotas relating to the number of women to men ratio, or different cultural identities. I have spoke to a lot of great leaders who love the quota system, I however am not one of them (nor yet a great leader). I am an avid believer in hiring the right person for the role and the team culture. Not the right person for a narrow, fake KPI tick off list. I am also a believer that if you embrace the idea of diversity from day one, it will happen naturally. This point was re-enforced by Ekaterina Walter in an article in Forbes.
“Successful companies are not the ones that build a business, then look at diversity as a nice-to-have attribute. Truly successful and innovative companies are those that build diverse teams when they are just starting out in their own apartment or their folks’ garage. Diversity is a mentality, not just strategic imperative.”
I am not saying it’s easy, but I strongly believe that integrating diversity into the mentality of the company from the outset is a key driver in ensuring a diverse team. Here at Tadaweb we have had over 11 different cultures and a growing number of women working in our team. To date we have been fortunate enough to have welcomed on board amazing people from:
If you wander through our office you will find little pieces of culture hiding everywhere and the team are very proud of who they are and where they come from… except when they lose the world cup.
This cultural diversity ensures we have the capacity to cater to nearly 10 languages (yes, in Luxembourg your are usually amazingly lucky and talented enough to be able to speak three or four languages!). This is great right? But how does diversity lead to tangible business success? Well, in a whole bunch of amazing ways. But life is short so I am not going to highlight them all. Instead I wanted to go through the top four that aren’t often discussed.
1. Diversity Can Drive an Efficient “Middle Ground”
Mixing black and white makes grey…
One of the most interesting elements I have noticed in working with such a culturally diverse team is understanding that different backgrounds, and arguably cultures, approach work and challenges very differently. Some of the guys have been raised to be quite risk averse yet have an incredible regard for detail. Others from a different background are more keen to “hack something up,” test it, then fix it. The two opposing approaches can actually form a very all “encompassing approach” to product development. The true challenge is understanding how to unite the differences in a way that is productive. For example, for someone who is hesitant to deploy before testing for weeks, unites with someone eager to push then flesh out the problems in a test environment, uniting the two can create a fantastic equilibrium between being over-cautious and overzealous.
2. Diversity is Beneficial for Targeting a Global Marketplace
Nothing beats being able to pass the phone to or greet a visitor at the door with a person whose mother tongue matches the important customer, lead or collaborator on the other end. People feel more secure speaking to someone who speaks their language (or their accent) and from our experience at Tadaweb, a much stronger, trusting relationships can be achieved. It also re-enforces the fact that you are a global, not a local company.
3. Diversity is an Amazing Teacher and Builds a Great Bond
Did you know that in Italy you don’t eat lunch until 2.30pm? Did you know the indigenous people of New Zealand are called Maoris? Did you that a real Belgian fry is cooked twice? Did you know that Feta can only be called Feta if it is fabricated in Greece? Did you know that apparently the US is the most amazing country in the whole world (well… according our US guys anyway.. cough)
These are just a few of the random facts (and not so fact) you pick up working with a bunch of very different people. Think about it yourself. You are unique and surrounded by people eager to learn about you and where you come from. I personally wanted to teach my team about my culture a couple of years ago… So I dressed up as an indigenous person from my home country, NZ. I do have to admit, I probably scared my small children on my way to work than teach my team about my culture but it was a great way for us to unite together. Diversity brings with it a massive database of unknowns to explore. The conversations never run dry around our communal dining table and we are constantly sharing little nuggets of information that make up who we are. This brings with it an excellent opportunity to bond and become a strong team.
4. Diversity Improves Communication
“Sup ow, all G? Sweet as bro” “Coucou - ca va? oui ca va”- You get it right? Hmm…. maybe not. It’s kiwi and French slang for asking someone how they are, and replying with they are good. With having so many languages being spoken in the office, sometimes we have to the common language of English or French to communicate. This provides an excellent opportunity for the team to consolidate their multiple languages. But above all, the team have to adapt to explaining things in multiple different ways, sometimes more slowly, other times from a different approach and sometimes using a range of different examples.
So what’s next? My next big challenge as the co-founder of a tech company is increasing even more the presence of women in my team. To date we are fortunate enough to a few already, and there are many more in the hiring pipeline. The current women on our team form management, organisational and developer roles, not the traditional positions women find themselves in. A fact for which I am very proud. And yes, even girls can kick ass at building IKEA furniture.
To sum up. If you are in the process of building a killer team hire someone who is perfect for the role at hand, but also has the capacity to bring a new level of diversity. It will bring a level of knowledge, understanding, communication and outlook that is impossible to achieve if you stick to an ants nest.