“Good” business…made easy?

What the Oscars and inclusion riders can teach startups about solving systemic inequalities

Photo cred: Louis Smit, Unsplash

At the Academy Awards this Sunday, Best Actress winner Frances McDormand dropped a call to action that got the progressive Internet in a tizzy. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.

As NPR explains, an inclusion rider “is a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.”

At first blush, the inclusion rider is a call to action for A-listers to leverage their power to change the diversity ratios on films. Dig a little deeper, and you see a pretty brilliant structural solution for a systemic problem. Rather than relying on the goodwill of every hiring manager working on a film, create a constraint to secure the outcome.

Put simply, reduce the friction for doing good.


I’ve been thinking about this challenge a lot recently, especially in the context of building a startup. Creating a business poses new challenges every day, and the more you can borrow or pay for the best practices of others, the more you can focus on the problems that are crucial and unique to your business.

This is the insight that drove the multi-billion dollar success of Amazon Web Services, which dramatically reduced the costs associated with traditional IT departments, or Twilio, who radically changed how companies build communication systems for engaging with customers. Then there’s the legal department (RocketLawyer, LegalZoom, Docusign), recruiting (Lever, Greenhouse), talent (Upwork, Behance), accounting (QuickBooks), benefits (JustWorks, Sequoia One, and too many to name), and many more.

All of these companies have embedded best practices into their products, reducing the time, capital, and skill required to GSD. They’ve given smaller companies the stepping stones to act like giants.

But some basic questions remain too hard to answer:

  • What is a fair market wage for this new hire?
  • How are we doing from a diversity inclusion perspective?
  • What does a more nuanced harassment policy look like?
  • What’s our environmental footprint?

On pay…It’s still too hard to get actionable data on market wages, unless you’re funded by a VC who will aggregate and share that data back with its portfolio companies.

On diversity…It’s far to hard to measure and track diversity inclusion for small companies, especially if you want to compare that to your sector’s standards.

On policies…Creating a harassment policy that is more accessible, less legal-speak, and more in line with your values? In the wake of Susan Fowler and #metoo, our team at Amino realized it was time to rethink our harassment policy. Months later, we’re still working on it, and not due to the lack of commitment from our Culture Team (which is comprised of all volunteers) or lack of research on open source policies.

Since the first dot com boon, it has become increasingly easy to start a business. Capital is more accessible, technologies are less expensive, and talent is easier to find.

But it’s not yet easy to build a diverse, inclusive, and fair business. And until that changes, we’re going to be cycling through hashtags for some time.


PS — there are some lights at the end of the tunnel:

  • Carta, who is trying to make it easier for any private company to share the wealth it generates, versus keeping it entrenched in a handful of owners
  • Monday, which manages job boards for “world positive” startups
  • Groups like Tech Ladies, a community and support system for women traversing the tech ecosystem

If you have more to add to this list, please do share.