Diversity and Inclusion

How to Build Diverse Teams

An Interview with Jason Thompson and Andrea Perdomo
Sep 11th, 2019  |  Jason Thompson
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When we hire, we have a tendency to tap into talent pools that represent ourselves--our race, gender, sexual orientation and ability. But by doing that, Jason Thompson and Andrea Perdomo point out, we’re missing opportunities to connect with and work alongside top talent. 

Here’s how you can find, hire and keep diverse talent:

  • Build a diverse network to recruit and hire from.

  • Thoughtfully create a work environment that is inclusive, welcoming and safe for your employees.

  • Infuse diversity into the fibers of your business culture from day one, so you can scale it more easily as you grow.

  • Approach hiring from a place of giving first and giving back. 


When it comes to hiring the best talent for your business, there are a lot of things to consider--including a prospect's experience, hard and soft skills and culture fit. But one thing you might be overlooking during the recruiting and hiring process is diversity. Or maybe you are looking for diversity and don’t know where to find it. 

As you look to make your first few hires, and later expand your team, you may naturally reach into your network and recruit people you already know, expecting to find the best talent for your startup there. However, according to Jason Thompson and Andrea Perdomo--the VP, and Senior Project Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars--intentionally looking for ways to diversify your team may have an even greater impact on the long-term success of your business. 

"It seems pretty obvious to me that if you want to compete, you need to have the voices in the room that will help you stay competitive and innovate," says Jason. "And that means you need to be intentional about who’s in that room. The more different voices and different views you have, the better you’re going to be. And the sooner you put those pieces in place, the sooner you’ll have the foundation for success.” 

Even though it requires intentionality, founders don’t need to be overwhelmed by the prospect of embracing diversity. As Jason goes on to explain: “Building a diverse workforce doesn’t ask you to do any additional work. Everything it requires, you should be doing to grow your business anyway. In fact, all it takes is a diverse network, an inclusive environment, an early start and the right reasons.”

Step 1: Build a Diverse Network

It goes without saying that in order to hire diverse talent, you need to know where to look. But, it takes more than just connecting with friends and former colleagues to tap into diverse talent pools. To successfully build a diverse team, it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who are different from you. 

“I think we naturally surround ourselves with people that are like us,” Andrea explains. “That’s just where we feel comfortable. But building a diverse network requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. When we don’t, we limit ourselves.”

“We aren’t just limiting our hiring opportunities, though,” Jason adds. “If we don’t have diverse networks, we’re also limiting who and how we can sell our products. Realistically, if you’re only willing to hire from a narrow pool of people, you’re probably only going to sell to that pool as well. And most of the time, that pool isn’t big enough to support a business. So when you don’t reach out, you aren’t just missing out on opportunities to build a strong, diversified team. You’re also closing the door on opportunities to grow your business.”

“But diversifying your network is actually easier than you might think,” Jason continues. “One thing you can do is reach out to universities and connect with the Chief Diversity Officer. Another thing you can do is attend conferences and events that focus on diverse communities and gain some visibility with regional organizations, women’s organizations and organizations for people with disabilities. The point is to be intentional about reaching out and connecting with different types of people.”

Connecting with diverse communities isn’t limited to a specific industry or distance, though. In fact, some of the biggest opportunities can be found outside of the startup ecosystem. 

As Andrea explains: “Getting outside of the startup world to network and attend events that aren’t for tech is super important, because it can open the door to new talent demographics. For example, maybe you need someone to help you with customer service. Well, there’s a lot of different industries you could tap into to find that candidate. You may end up tapping into a talent pool that you never even thought existed, just by reaching outside of the tech startup community.”

As Andrea explains: “Getting outside of the startup world to network and attend events that aren’t for tech is super important, because it can open the door to new talent demographics. For example, maybe you need someone to help you with customer service. Well, there’s a lot of different industries you could tap into to find that candidate. You may end up tapping into a talent pool that you never even thought existed, just by reaching outside of the tech startup community.”

“We live in a world that is much more global,” Jason adds. “But a lot of times, when we think about diversity, we don’t think about people who are maybe outside our own local community. The reality is, if you want to be competitive on a global scale you need to remember that that’s what the world looks like. It’s a world economy. And if you want to sell to a global community, your business needs to mirror global demographics.”

Step 2: Be Thoughtful About Your Environment

Successfully building a diverse team extends far beyond networking and recruiting, though. To keep great talent, founders need to be even more intentional and thoughtful about the environment their employees work in after they’ve been hired. 

“It’s really important to be cognizant about the things you have in your environment," Jason explains. "A lot of times companies think: ‘Oh, we should put in a ping pong table or foosball tables.’ But those tend to reinforce 'bro culture'.” Instead, founders should focus on the interests, needs and values of their employees and work strategically to incorporate those things into the work environment. This could be as simple as surveying your employees through an anonymous google form to understand their needs and interests.

However, the true mark of an inclusive environment is constructive-criticism. 

“A lot of people think that when our environment’s inclusive that means everybody’s happy. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that," explains Jason. "In fact, if it seems like everyone is happy, it probably means that people don’t feel empowered to speak up, share their opinions or disagree. And you want your employees to speak up when they don’t think things are fair or inviting. That means your environment is safe.” 

Step 3: Infuse it into Your DNA

Whether you're building a diverse team or designing an inclusive environment, the earlier you get started the better. Not only does doing so enable you to create an inclusive culture from the get-go, but it also sets you up for long-term business growth.

“Diverse teams are successful,” explains Jason. “So if you want to be successful, why wouldn’t you want to have a diverse team right out of the gate? It’s hard to be a startup anyway. But if you can get the pieces and players in place early, you have a head start on growing your business.” 

“Diverse teams are successful,” explains Jason. “So if you want to be successful, why wouldn’t you want to have a diverse team right out of the gate? It’s hard to be a startup anyway. But if you can get the pieces and players in place early, you have a head start on growing your business.” 

“Think about the culture you’re building,” Andrea adds. “If you can internalize what inclusion really means and make that a part of your company's DNA early on, you’ll find that it’s much easier to scale it and ensure that people feel included from day one.”

Even though it’s ideal to start building a diverse team as early as your first few hires, it’s never too late to start.  As Andrea explains: “Sometimes we get so caught up in the hustle of fundraising, finding customers and gaining traction that we forget to put those foundational pieces in place on day one. That’s okay. But it’s so much easier to start ingraining diversity and inclusion into your culture now, than it will be to go back and do it later.” 

Step 4: GiveFirst

While diversity offers a lot of benefits to startups, successful teams are not built on a “what’s in it for me” mindset. Rather, they come from a place of GiveFirst.  

"A lot of times when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we focus on the business reasons for doing it. And there are a lot. But it's okay to do the right thing just because it's the right thing,” says Jason. "If you have values and a mission that focuses on doing the right thing, employees will connect with that. They want to be part of an organization that values not just how much money it can make, but also that it’s doing something to make the world a better place. And I’d like to think that that’s the big picture behind what every company does: to make the world a better place.”

"Think about it!” says Andrea. “If every Techstars company took this initiative and implemented it, the amount of economic development we could create around the world, just through the startups that go through our accelerators, could be exponential!"

Want more content like this? Watch Jason’s talk on D&I for Founders in the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit. 


Resources to Connect with Diverse Talent in Your Area: 

1. BuiltIn organizes information about tech-focused diversity organizations for their 7 geographies - check them out for your city:

2. Check for Meetups in your city related to your open role. Try reaching out to the organizer and ask if they’re willing to share your job description with the group. 

3. Reach out to talent@techstars.com for a more comprehensive list of recommendations on how to connect with diverse candidates for your specific geography. 

This interview was conducted by Hayley Campbell.

Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson is the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars
Andrea Perdomo
Andrea Perdomo is the Senior Project Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars
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