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How diversity can launch startups even higher
Startups create the tech and products that set the tone for our collective future. It’s pivotal that founders lead by example to make diversity and inclusion a priority—and reap the rewards.
This series on diversity and inclusion is sponsored by Amway, which supports a prosperous economy through having a diverse workplace. Companies committed to diversity and inclusion are better equipped to innovate and drive performance. For more information, visit amwayglobal.com/our-story.
Startups have become the new engine for growth in our economy. By creating jobs and coming up with novel solutions for a wide range of problems, these companies play an important role in putting millions to work and changing the fabric of our day to day lives. With such an integral role in our society and on the way we do business, it's pivotal that business leaders and startup founders make diversity and inclusion a priority.
Diversity creates opportunities for an upstart company. In a chaotic and fast-paced environment, being able to capitalize on the full potential of a diverse group of people will set many startups leagues ahead of their competitors. It's not just a matter of principle in an increasingly diverse society, it's smart business sense too.
Diversity from the get-go
Unique differences that come from various cultural, gender and ethnic backgrounds help break down silos and create an environment with many viewpoints. Fostering diverse hiring and inclusivity from the start is an important step to ensure it's built into the company culture right away.
Companies can fall into the trap of setting up programs as afterthoughts or they can wait too long to create a diversity initiative. Building a culture of diversity starts from the top down. As the Great British Diversity Experiment found, it's “action at the upper echelons of our industry" that models behavior and leads to lasting change. An early initiative from leadership can set the company's mission, encourage individual responsibility in fulfilling that mission, and ultimately grow a more creative workplace.
There is evidence to show that being exposed to varying viewpoints leads to greater creativity within a team. Sometimes we take it for granted that different technical, emotional and creative perspectives are needed to solve complex problems, but research is also beginning to show that social diversity works in a similar way.
In a study conducted by the Credit Suisse Research Institute team, researchers examined 2,360 companies between 2005 and 2011. They were looking for a relationship between gender-diverse corporate management teams and financial performance, and what they found was that when there were one or a few women on the board, the companies delivered higher and more profitable returns on equity and had better growth prospects as a company.
Just the act of interacting with people from different backgrounds is beneficial as it leads to greater business opportunities. Unfortunately, this is not always prevalent in the startup field. Researchers in 2017 found that only 17% of startups have been founded by women. Nearly 40% of female founders encountered sexism and gender discrimination in their business.
Diversity helps companies avoid crises
The world is going through a seismic shift because of the advent of smart technology and scalable innovations, most of which are coming out of startup culture. Women and underrepresented minorities need to have a part in the creation of new technologies so products and services cater to all demographics, and so that blind spots (like racist and sexist A.I.) are discovered sooner rather than later.
In that respect, startups can learn something important from corporate America. Sallie Krawcheck, former President of Global Wealth at Bank of America and current CEO and founder of Ellevest, shares how lack of diversity on Wall Street led to one of America's largest crises:
"There is no doubt in my mind that the financial crisis that the United States and the world suffered would have been less severe if we'd had more diversity on Wall Street," she tells Big Think. "There's no doubt. We know this intuitively. If all of us think about those cavernous trading floors where the individuals populating the trading desks looked the same, that if those had been incredibly diverse, sort of the United Nations of every different kind of person you could have, we intuitively know that the crisis would have been less severe. We intuitively know that if there were more women at the senior leadership tables that the crisis would have been less severe. And not only do we know it intuitively, the research tells us this. The research tells us that homogenous teams tend to over-trust each other."
The current state of startups
The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that the STEM workforce in the United States is projected to grow 17% in the next decade, compared to other industries that are only going to see an increase of 12%. If startup and technical jobs are set to increase at that rate, you have to wonder why more women and minorities are not seeking out these careers. The answer is that lingering biases remain, both implicit and overt, and many diverse workers often end up leaving the field early on.
A study by Jennifer L. Glass titled 'What's So Special about STEM? A Comparison of Women's Retention in STEM and Professional Occupations', found that after 12 years, half of the women in the study switched to other fields, evidence that points to a systemic problem in the culture.
The challenge may not only be hiring more diverse people but also making sure they don't leave at higher rates. Studies have shown that women in these fields are “less satisfied with their careers, perceive that they are less likely to advance at their current organizations, or believe they must change jobs in order to reach the next level."
Unfortunately, this is because a safe and inclusive work environment is not on the list of priorities for a lot of companies. Recent data published by venture firm First Round Capital found that of 869 startups, half of their founders have been harassed in some way or are aware of somebody who has. Despite the rising reportage and dialogue around harassment, only a small percentage of startups have a strategy in place to promote diversity and inclusion; 58.4% of the 869 startups surveyed claim they have a D&I strategy but "nothing formal", and 24.5% have no D&I strategy in place at all.
(Credit: First Round Capital)
Steps toward creating a thriving atmosphere
Building a diverse company is not a simple endeavor, but small actions throughout the company can lead to meaningful results.
The first thing to do is to assess whether a startup is already diverse or it has intentions to go in that direction. Here's a practical list of questions and ideas to think about when determining diversity.
- Create a list of the last five hires. Ask yourself the reasoning for why they were hired and consider their unique backgrounds.
- Create a similar list for some of the leading executives in the company and ask the same questions.
- Begin to use this pattern-recognizing assessment in areas of promotions, raises and employees acknowledged for their hard work and contributions.
Another key question for companies who value diversity is: Do we also value inclusivity? The two terms are used interchangeably but they aren't the same. Recruiting diverse talent into a place they feel like they don't belong will have a negative effect; the two concepts go hand in hand.
These small but potent questions and efforts can show a lot about where a startup places its priorities. For example, Amway has a “real talk" open communication channel that goes a long way in inspiring people to ask questions, challenge their assumptions and allow for deeper talks to take place.
How do you know if your programs are working? Get data. Digital marketing startup MatchCraft runs an anonymous internal survey on D&I every quarter: "We also survey employees... to ensure that we are keeping our finger on the pulse and inspire diversity through anonymity for those who don't feel comfortable speaking up on company practices," Nicole Webb, Head of People and Culture, tells Built in LA. Webb continues: “We've seen increasingly positive feedback in our employee happiness index surveys as MatchCraft grows and continues to evolve."
As the startup space grows and increasingly becomes more responsible for the future of work and innovation, the corporate setting must change with the times. When diversity is encouraged, everybody wins.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.