Impromptu networking at Capital One with Change Catalyst Diversity & Inclusion Workshop
Impromptu networking at Capital One with Change Catalyst Diversity & Inclusion Workshop

As a leader and entrepreneur responsible for building and growing teams, the importance of building diverse teams has become more and more evident to me. Diversity of thought and diversity of perspective are crucial to obtaining truly innovative solutions. A 2015 study by McKinsey found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform. One of my favorite Patton quotes sums this up quite nicely.

“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” — General George S. Patton Jr

Shortly after starting Voltage Control, Stephen Straus and Josh Kerr approached me about integrating my innovation workshops into Kung Fu AI’s sales and scoping process. As I started getting more involved with Kung Fu’s recruiting process, Stephen told me about his Diversity & Inclusion pledge, which challenges startups to apply the Rooney Rule. Applying this rule has already encouraged us to slow down, giving our process the slack it needed to identify individuals who were not only diverse but also a much better fit for the role.

This work couldn’t have been more timely, as I was scheduled to attend a Diversity and Inclusion workshop that Capital One organized and hosted at their offices in San Francisco. Melinda Epler and Wayne Sutton of Change Catalyst provided the content and facilitated the workshop. Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation — through Tech Inclusion and Startup Ecosystem programs.

This workshop brought together startups from across the US ranging from 2–200 employees to participate. I personally found the stories and experiences from these startups as impactful as the expert content prepared by Change Catalyst. During the workshop, I learned new concepts, as well as new vocabulary for things I’ve struggled to articulate in the past.

“The most important thing I learned was the spectrum of ally behavior, and how important it is to pick the right techniques for diversity and inclusion that align with where your team/company are on that spectrum.”, Ellen Chisa, CEO at new startup

Empathy-based conversation can begin to open the door to inclusion
Empathy-based conversation can begin to open the door to inclusion


After attending the workshop, I have a much better working knowledge of inclusion and am now better equipped to create an inclusive culture. In order to better understand inclusion, it is helpful to compare it to the definition of diversity. Diversity is bringing people with different backgrounds to the table. Inclusion is inviting them to speak and encouraging them to lead.

5 stages of inclusion

  1. I feel welcome
  2. I am safe
  3. I am engaged
  4. I commit to being here
  5. I belong here

“While I think we’ve worked really hard on creating a welcoming community, I’d now like to focus on creating a space where you don’t just feel welcomed, but you feel like you really belong. A sense of belonging creates roots, commitment, and in turn, stronger communities. I look forward to helping foster this sense within Capital Factory, and the tech community in Austin in general. I want all types of people to feel like they belong in this industry.” — Abba Binns, Capital Factory, Austin, TX

Microaggressions & Biases

A microaggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. The workshop helped me realize that microaggressions discourage inclusion and must be dealt with decisively. I’ve set a personal goal to no longer quietly ignore microaggressions and instead confront them with an honest and direct conversation.

Despite our best intentions, unconscious biases can derail our attempts to create an inclusive culture. They can also creep into our recruiting and interviewing efforts. It is a good idea to learn about these biases and consider tools and techniques to counteract them. I’ve found these videos produced by Facebook helpful and there are many others like these.

The lizard brain!
The lizard brain!

Affinity Groups

In the past, I’ve advocated and created special interest groups and guilds to support individuals in their quests to learn new skills or follow their interests. However, affinity groups and employee resource groups (ERGs) were new to me. If these groups are created with purpose and allow the members to create an authentic community, I believe they would have a profound impact on fostering an inclusive culture.

The other attendees who had experience with these types of groups were happy with their results and even expressed interest in finding better software tools for group communications. One attendee warned us of the dangers of Slack for such a group, as anybody can add someone else, which has led to “outing” of someone still “in the closet”. Many things should be considered to ensure you are nurturing inclusion.


Recruiting & Onboarding

Melinda & Wayne challenged the group to think through our purpose and goals and to consider the entire pipeline holistically. Once you’ve hired an employee they still have to be onboarded and they need to feel welcomed and supported through that process.

One tool we used, which was new to me, is an empathy map. I like that it forces you to consider how this individual will experience through their various senses and then you are invited to consider how that might manifest positively and negatively. This prepares you to have an inclusive mindset when designing all aspects of your recruiting pipeline from writing job descriptions to crafting your employee handbook.

Using an empathy maps can help you see your candidate pool more objectively
Using an empathy maps can help you see your candidate pool more objectively

Job Descriptions

A few years back, I remember reading some research from Google about how a candidate’s college was not a good indicator of success in the job. I also read their advice on removing superlatives and “bonus points” sections from job descriptions. In the workshop, we learned that while women on average will only apply to jobs where they believe they meet 100% of the requirements of the job description, men will apply to jobs where they only need 30%. Based on those stats, it is clear that you should keep your job descriptions clear and concise if you want to attract a diverse workforce.

The language you choose when writing your job description can provide cues into your culture. Take extra care with your use of pronouns and consider using a tool to check for bias in your copy.

“I’ve already started making changes in my startup, around the hiring process. If you’d asked me a week ago, I would’ve thought that sourcing and inbound talent would be my main focus, but since the workshop I’ve been digging into the interviewing process itself, examining our questions, expectations, and care.”, Arsenio Santos, VP of Engineering at Grove


Once you have established and are continuing to foster inclusive workplace practices, it’s time to focus on sourcing. I often hear folks make the claim that lack of diversity is a pipeline problem. While I can understand how they arrive at that conclusion, it is simply an easy excuse to avoid the extra work of enhancing the top of the funnel.

It is also important to consider confirmation bias and selection bias, due to the fact that your company will more likely attract individuals that are similar to the individuals already employed there. If you are interested in diversifying your funnel, here are a few job boards that target candidates with underrepresented backgrounds:

  • BeVisible — Career network for Latinx
  • Women Who Code — Inspiring women to excel in technology careers.
  • POCIT — Jobs for people of color in tech.

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype Threat is a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group. The workshop taught me to consider if candidates may not bring their “A game” due to their own internal stereotype threat. Consider encouraging a candidate to become more active, take them on a walk, give them a high five, break them out of any negative priming they may have received prior to walking in the door.

Power poses can energize and encourage confidence
Power poses can energize and encourage confidence


Our cohort will stay connected using Slack Channel, so that we can share our progress, continue to compare approaches, and help each other become advocates for diversity and inclusion in our larger communities. I’m looking forward to this ongoing work.

Regardless, if you currently have no diversity and are just trying to figure out how to start, or if you are looking to improve your techniques, I suggest connecting with a group like Change Catalysts or finding some local startups that are also working on diversity. The more I learn, the more I realize that there is so much more for us to do. I welcome your thoughts and words of encouragement. Please share via the comments below.