Making steps towards a DEI aware universe

Andreea Butincu
Mar 3 · 8 min read

As our teams keep growing, we are making efforts to shape a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future for our studio and ventures.

Before we dive into DEI and its importance within the ecosystem, let’s zoom out for a moment and take a look at where we’re coming from. As you might know, startup studios have tremendous potential to create the leading companies of tomorrow. We’re often seen as startup factories because our goal isn’t to build only one successful venture but to consistently innovate to continuously produce new ventures. But with this ambitious vision also comes a great form of responsibility. Studios are in a rather unique position, holding the ability to shape new ventures from the early stages of venture creation. At Builders, we want to leverage this opportunity to set an example in DEI for our current and future ventures to follow and subsequently implement within their own teams.

Let’s start by saying there are no set guidelines, instructions, or rules on becoming a more diverse and inclusive team. There is no defined start or finish line. We know that the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness will never be accomplished without action. In other words, this means that we need to continuously work on it to make it happen. The only way to achieve this is by listening to our teams and finding the right way to shape the DEI culture together. After all, it’s all about having whole people who feel supported, included, and empowered at their workplace.

In the context of diversity & inclusion, to be “whole” means the ability to be your true self at work, without leaving parts of you at home. More often than not, employees tend to leave out parts of themselves when at the workplace because they don’t think it will help them in the work they do. For example, a CTO with a talent for tackling tech-related challenges by day could have an undying love for paleontology (because why not) but would not really bring it to work because they believe it doesn’t add value to the workplace in the context of their role.

Needless to say, we are aware of the diversity gap in our industry, and that’s not something that can be solved quickly or easily. And that’s exactly why we want to spark more discussions, examples, talks, and debates around diversity and inclusion.

It’s time to commit!

As a diverse group of builders, we believe that we have the responsibility to bring different perspectives together and create something remarkable. The fact is that if you want to build teams or ventures capable of innovating, you need different voices and ideas. Let’s be honest; diversity is a game-changer.

The key is to not only bring together a diverse group of people — but to recognise and celebrate all our differences. When people feel valued for their unique whole self, they feel comfortable and are more simply more likely to excel with their talent. The truth is that we are genetically wired to belong; thus, our ultimate goal both as Builders and humanity as a whole is to cultivate a universe where everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

If you want your teams to feel happy and inspired when they step into the workplace, you should want them to feel accepted, included, and heard. This can have a huge impact on their engagement and satisfaction, but more importantly, on their mental health and wellbeing.

We truly believe that fostering a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment will only make our ventures stronger. All in all, we aim to create a space where different identities — in terms of age, culture, physical or mental abilities and disabilities, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation — feel empowered and included. To achieve this, we must simply work together.

What is DEI exactly?

We’ve come to throw around words like ‘Diversity’, ‘Equity’ and ‘Inclusion’, but what do they really stand for?

Diversity highlights each individual’s uniqueness and helps the leadership understand how to empower people by respecting and valuing what makes them different. By understanding and being aware of this concept, we aspire to empower our people and uniqueness.

When embracing an equitable culture, we identify and eliminate unfair biases, barriers, and stereotypes that may limit our people’s participation and creativity at the workplace. This way, we create an atmosphere of trust within the workplace and provide equal access to opportunities and resources.

“While diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act”, as Zabeen Hirji mentioned at the Angela Hildyard Leadership & Equity Symposium. Inclusion focuses on creating a safe environment where employees feel accepted as individuals, regardless of their differences, and feel valued for who they truly are. For us, inclusivity is crucial in achieving our goal to mold the future into one driven by diversity. Taking action to create a long-lasting inclusive culture that promotes inclusive behavior has proven beneficial for everyone at Builders thus far.

Step into a DEI future

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion should be tangible in everything we do and build. There are three areas where DEI will be actively promoted: our team culture, communication, and recruitment.

We are aware DEI implies small steps over a more extended period; hence we are ready to make it one of our company values, integrate it within our studio DNA, and reflect it in our day-to-day activities.

We believe that to build powerful new ventures within the studio, we must show our founders the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion from an early phase. Hence, we’ve prioritised DEI as an important section in our venture & studio playbooks and our internal newsletter. This is how we can learn together, celebrate major milestones and help each other through difficult times.

At the beginning of the year, we wanted to hear our people’s perspectives around DEI and what we need to improve or change within our workplace. So we’ve gathered data through an anonymous survey that covered identity factors (gender identity, ethnicity), workplace aspects (support, comfort, inclusion), and viewpoints on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The answers were super insightful, and we are happy to see that everyone recognises the importance of cultural diversity and wants to expand their knowledge. We plan to do this yearly (a classic New Year’s tradition) to measure everyone’s engagement moving forward and see how things are changing within our universe.

“Ultimately, diversity results in a lovely place to work, not holding grudges to someone or the organisation, but being happy with what you do, think all is fair, and when things are not, providing a safe space where such things can be addressed and improved.” — What does Diversity mean for you?

Moreover, we are continually looking for new ways to measure our people’s happiness and engagement. We said it once, and we’ll say it again; we celebrate a work environment where people can grow towards their full potential and beyond. Together with Fortify, we are building our studio and ventures through various tools and methodologies such as regular progress meetings, talent development sessions, and psychometric tests. Still, we’re always curious to try new tools and experiment around this subject.

To prevent communication barriers in a multicultural team, we chose to have English as our official studio language. Hence, all the communication — internally or externally, online or offline — is always in English. This even goes for the simplest things like our coffee machine.

As a diverse organisation, we recognise the ironic flip side of this soft rule, especially operating out of a country where English is not the native language. People who share common mother tongues are always welcome to speak their own language. It would neither be inclusive nor diverse if we enforced an anglo-oriented rule. However, at Builders, the nature of inclusiveness is showcased by switching to a language that everyone in the room can understand and converse in, regardless of whether it is English, French, or Dutch.

With our new Slack Connect channel called #universe, our studio and venture teams can now connect, share ideas and resources, and celebrate every moment. This channel is where our DEI champion (hi, it’s me) can communicate our goals and measure progress, creating a space where everyone can feel included, stay connected and get more involved. By doing this, we make sure everyone in our universe is included in this ongoing process, and we establish a norm in actively talking about DEI in the workplace.

“Yes, I would love to hear some recommendations of books, podcasts, and articles and just talk more about this. It would be nice to have debates around this topic or even workshops, so we understand how to build a more diverse workplace.” — Do you want to be more informed on topics related to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?

Our teams are growing, so we are continually looking for aspiring builders ready for a new challenge. We want to make sure Builders is a place where our people are respected and valued for who they are. By following an inclusive recruitment process, we make sure to connect with, interview, and hire diverse individuals while understanding and respecting their different backgrounds and experiences. To improve this process, we want to become more proactive in locating and removing the barriers that discourage potential individuals from working and collaborating with us.

To start with, we are working to identify and overcome our unconscious attitudes and de-bias our hiring practices and procedures. At the moment, we are experimenting with the wording of job listings by removing words closely associated with either biological gender.

We have a standardised interview process with a set of defined questions that help us minimise bias and focus on the factors that directly impact performance. In addition to this, we use an interview scorecard that grades candidates’ responses to each question on a predetermined scale. At the end of each hiring process, we set aside time to discuss how well we have done regarding the diversity goals we set out to achieve and what the next steps should be.

Lastly, it is important to address unconscious bias to develop and maintain an inclusive team. Everyone has unconscious biases, and unfortunately, it is unlikely that we can eliminate them. But the shining ray of hope lies in shifting our mindset and inviting constant inquiry into how we make decisions. To improve our recruitment pipeline, we created a ‘Guide to Unconscious Bias’, which helps us mitigate the negative impact of biases on our organisational decision-making. The aim is to educate our team about the existence of unconscious bias through short exercises and practices.

“A wide variety of different backgrounds and perspectives create a bigger impact together.” — What does Diversity mean for you?

It will take time to put the right processes, systems, and tools to create a more diverse and inclusive recruitment strategy. Regardless, we don’t want to treat diversity as just another box that we check in our recruitment process.

Moving forward

DEI can be a sensitive topic, we agree. So this is our message to those who don’t know where to start. Start by listening to your team. It would be best if you began to normalise humanity within your workplace. Do you find it to be an uncomfortable subject? Good, you’re on the right track. Start getting comfortable being uncomfortable because this is an ongoing process, and it does not have a clear end. But that’s the beauty of it, an ongoing ever-evolving process of diversity and inclusion, propelling organisations forward!

On the other hand, we ask ourselves how other studios and tech companies are succeeding in building a DEI future, where we are falling short, and how we can improve and learn from each other. So if you have a different perspective that could add to our DEI vision, feel free to reach out, and let’s build an inclusive future together.

If you want to follow our progress moving forward, feel free to subscribe to our monthly newsletter in which we will talk more about our initiatives around DEI or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Builders Universe

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