Project Include
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Project Include

Edited version of photo from Motcombe under CC2.0

Roadmap to Diversity and Inclusion

Because promises to try harder don’t work

What is the one thing that companies can do to become diverse and inclusive?

Targets transform D&I from a “nice to have” to a “must have,” changing mindsets, attitudes, and behavior; they become the launchpad for doing the hard work, having the uncomfortable conversations, and making the difficult decisions.

Photo by Trevor Huxham under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Let’s talk race.

  • 10% of employees should be Black/African American/African
  • 10% of employees should be Latinx/Hispanic

The world is not binary.

  • 5% of an inclusive company’s workforce will likely be nonbinary.
  • The remaining employees should be an even balance of men and women with a hard target of 45% identifying as women.
  1. Reinforce targets across the whole recruiting and retention processes. If the process is flawed from the start, even the Rooney Rule can’t make qualified hires magically appear at the end.
  2. Apply targets cross-functionally and up the full length of the corporate ladder. Establish clear promotion paths that offer all talented employees a fair shot at senior positions. Many companies recruit employees of color at junior and lower management positions, but then limit career progression. Research on the “bamboo ceiling” shows that Asian employees are least likely of any group to make it to senior roles.
  3. Apply the 5% nonbinary guideline to racial/ethnic groups, with at least 45% of employees in all groups identifying as binary women. Intersectionality matters.

The most encouraging result we’ve seen is that hiring teams with gender and race diversity early on creates a flywheel effect that makes attracting, hiring and retaining candidates from all underrepresented backgrounds dramatically easier.

No one has ever said they wish they had waited longer to start working on D&I.

Project Include chart. STEM data from Pew Research; US workforce data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We have seen startups achieve these results even without targets.

  1. Process: These numbers offer a realistic roadmap. They come from actual metrics from the top-quartile startups we’ve worked with, so we know they’re achievable within two years — even in the Bay Area. Our data came from a small group of start-ups in Startup Include and VC Include that we’ve worked with over the past two years. We included only startups with at least 25 employees, where numbers start to be more meaningful. We also excluded a company with 65% Latinx employees as an outlier. We defined top quartile as having the greatest percentage of underrepresented employees of color.
  2. In the nonbinary category, we included answers such as “not sure,” “nonbinary,” “genderfluid,” and “other.”



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Ellen K. Pao

Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include. Author of Reset. Angel investor.