The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.

Expert tips for companies building diverse and inclusive teams.

There’s an old Japanese proverb that goes like this — “the nail that sticks out will be hammered down.” The saying is most often interpreted to be a commentary on Japanese society, where “conformity is king”. In many eastern cultures, even in today’s day and age, the cultural norm is not to stick out.

The above is illustrative of the fact that people from different backgrounds have different perspectives on diversity. Last week, Lightspeed founders and teams joined together to address this very important topic. Founders and teams from YugaByte, MoxaixSoft, Clever, Gainsight, FiveStars, MapR, Cohere, Karius, VolkScience, Applatix, Personalis and more joined together to have a discussion around diversity, led by Joelle Emerson of Paradigm.

We all know intuitively (and research shows) that diversity matters. And in a business context, research shows that a diverse team performs better. But what does that mean to you as a founder — how do you approach hiring a diverse team? How do you make this a priority as you’re building a company?

Below are some highlights and key takeaways from our conversation with Joelle around this topic, and what should be top of mind when you’re starting a company and building a diverse team.

1. How should leaders be thinking about developing an “inclusive” team?

Joelle: This is a broad concept, and there’s a lot to think about in ensuring that teams are inclusive. But one area of focus to consider is voice — does everyone on the team have an opportunity to have their voice heard and considered? In designing meetings and team communication, leaders should be sure they’re intentional about hearing and surfacing everyone’s ideas, even (or perhaps especially) when those ideas are different.

2. Once you have a diverse team in place, how do you leverage the benefits of diversity?

Joelle: By creating inclusive teams. Simply having people from different backgrounds on a team isn’t enough to benefit from the difference of perspective those backgrounds might bring. For example, research indicates that when people aren’t sure whether they belong in their environment, they can’t do their best work. They’re also less engaged and more likely to leave. For companies that want to build the strongest teams, a focus on designing an inclusive culture is key.

3. How do you manage unconscious bias? Among teams, and throughout the hiring process?

Joelle: One way to manage bias is by adding structure. In hiring, for example, asking teams to articulate the criteria that matter for a role before considering candidates for that role leads to a more consistent evaluation process. And conducting structured interviews — where all candidates for the same role are asked the same questions — helps interviewers compare candidates apples to apples, and can reduce our brain’s reliance on bias. I shared further strategies here.

4. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset — Which do you want to have?

Joelle: If you want to set loftier goals, take better risks, and be more resilient in the face of setbacks, then you definitely want a growth mindset. Managers with a growth mindset may also be less influenced by bias in evaluating employees than managers with a fixed mindset. I highly encourage folks to read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset to learn more.

5. Last but not least, what are a few immediately actionable steps founders can take with their teams to implement some of the above strategies you’ve laid out?


  • Learn. Educate yourself on the benefits of diversity, barriers to creating inclusive cultures, and strategies to do so more effectively. Continuing to learn and build knowledge around this topic is key.
  • Expand your network. One barrier to building more diverse and inclusive teams is the homogeneity of networks. Attending events with a diverse group of attendees, mentoring people from backgrounds different than your own, and following people from underrepresented backgrounds on social media can help create a more diverse network and expand your perspective.
  • Begin adding structure. Having basic structures in place to guide things like hiring and promotion decisions is key. For example, articulating the relevant criteria for every hiring or promotion decision up front, and then considering candidates against those criteria, can lead decisions to be more objective.

For more information on managing unconscious bias, I encourage you to download Paradigm’s white paper, “Managing Unconscious Bias: Strategies to Address Bias & Build More Diverse, Inclusive Organizations.”

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