Stakeholder Capitalism

Why diversity within your organization matters – Lessons from 11 entrepreneurs

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Diversity has become vital for organizations. Image: UNSPLASH

Saemoon Yoon
Lead, Innovator Communities, World Economic Forum

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  • Diversity leads to creativity and resilience, but to implement it in businesses can be challenging.
  • Through diversity, deliberation and unconventional solutions can be found.
  • Here are the lessons from entrepreneurs from the World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneers on why diversity is so crucial in organizations.

Diversity brings in new ideas and acts as a pathway to unlock creativity. The business world is no exception. The more a organization is open to perspectives from people of different backgrounds, the more creative and resilient it becomes. Diversity not only improves performance but also creates positive friction that enhances deliberation and upends conformity. However, it is not as easy to embrace diversity than to merely say. If not deployed carefully, an organization could suffer from friction, uneasiness, and conflicts.

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We asked entrepreneurs from the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers to share their views on why diversity is so important to their organizations and what were learnings from their entrepreneurial journey. Here is what they said:

Diversity feeds a curious mind

Aba Schubert (CEO, Dorae)

I have valued diversity since I first started school at the age of five. Suddenly my world opened up – each day I worked, played and bumped up against people who were not like me for one reason or another. I learned as much from the people around me as from class. At its core, diversity feeds a curious mind. The more differences of perspective and experience we can gather around us, the more we can know.

At Dorae, having a diverse team means we “connect the dots” in new ways, because we can borrow novel perspectives from each other and build on an experience set that spans the world and generations. Being part of a team-of-all-types that supplies software for global trade is like the first day of school writ large. We learn as much from each other and from our wildly diverse market as we ever learnt from studying.

We need to remove structural biases for certain communities

Bryan Dechairo (CEO, Sherlock Biosciences)

At Sherlock, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are not just buzz words; they are part of our core values. We believe that a community of well rounded professionals from all ethnicities, nationalities, educational backgrounds, and genders fosters an environment of new ideas and innovation. But for too long, structural biases have prevented certain communities from access to opportunities within the biotech industry. Recognizing that these barriers exist, we have committed to creating pathways to overcome them. We’ve worked to ensure our company reflects the diversity of our community and provides a voice to those that have been denied one for too long.

While diversity has always been a priority for us, the pandemic undoubtably shone a light on long existing inequities in care within our healthcare systems, inequities that can no longer be ignored. It became a catalyst for us, amplifying the responsibility we felt to be a voice in the industry calling for others to rise to the challenge of ensuring diversity and health equity within their organizations, communities and the world.

Diversity is not an option but a must

Charles Bark (Founder and CEO, HiNounou)

Diversity is a huge richness – especially for a startup who has a vision to go worldwide and impact the life of people in all continents. Since HiNounou aims to bring healthy longevity to seniors and their families worldwide and ease the burden of the professional caregivers, we consider that is vital to have diversity in our team.

As shown in the World Economic Forum Strategic Intelligence Platform for ageing and longevity, building healthy longevity for well developed countries as well as emerging countries is a real challenge. It involves stakeholders looking at technology innovation, research regarding intergenerational relationships to smart cities and healthy nutrition diets, among other factors.

For us, diversity wasn't just an option but a key success factor. Diversity helps us to gather wonderful people in our HiNounou team of humanistic leaders who want to make the world better. We currently have a fantastic team in 4 continents. We expanded our offer in 12 countries within a short period of 2 years. Thanks to the World Economic Forum, we aim to impact the world and shape the future of health, aging and longevity and impact the life of billion people.

Creating a culture of inclusiveness

Karim Cassimjee (CEO and Cofounder, EnginZyme)

To achieve our ambitious goals we need to not only attract the best and brightest people in their field, but more importantly the people that are the best fit for the company. One of the most important success factors is the strong culture and people being aligned with our company culture. Even if we are a Swedish startup, our team is very international and built with people from many countries (Swedes are actually a minority). By attracting people that share similar ideas and mindset and with diverse backgrounds we have created a culture of inclusiveness where people feel safe to be themselves and to take initiatives. We are very proud of the team and appreciate that we have a very loyal workforce.

Diversity leads to richer ideas and solutions

Kasim Alfalahi (CEO, Avanci)

Our business is truly global, we work with both Fortune 100 companies and very small businesses, in dozens of countries around the world and across diverse cultures and organizational setups. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in and led a variety of teams. My experience has been that the more diverse the team, the richer the ideas and the solutions which can be created – I’ve seen firsthand that different cultures may view the same issue from a different perspective.

Most of us in Avanci had worked for multinational businesses before and learned the value of being more closely aligned with our customers. So, when we founded Avanci, we wanted to reflect more closely the diverse world in which we operate. Though it would perhaps have been easier just to work from a single location, instead we looked to be physically closer to our counterparts. We now work across five different offices, one in the US, one in Europe and three in Asia.

Across Avanci, and our sister company Marconi which supports us, the nationalities, race, gender and age of our people are as diverse as they are among our clients. We recruit the best people for the job without any other considerations. This year to date, 50% of our new hires are women, and our new colleagues reflect five nationalities across four countries. I believe that by embracing and celebrating diversity we can be a more effective organization – and a great place to work!

We need expertise of different cultures, languages and geographies

Amos Haggiag (CEO and Cofounder, Optibus)

Every city and region struggle with unique industry challenges. Understanding local problems, developing localized and innovative solutions, and breaking into new markets requires a diverse team with expertise in and knowledge of different cultures, languages, and geographies.

Optibus works with transportation providers in over 500 cities across twenty four countries, so team diversity is key to our understanding and tackling of local transportation issues worldwide. When we looked at public transportation in rapidly urbanizing areas of Africa, Latin America, and India - places that are poised to be the cities of the future - we detected a huge opportunity for using AI and data driven technology to create efficient, equitable, and sustainable mobility systems from the beginning of their development. Of course, given the diversity of these regions, we knew we could only identify and resolve local problems with local expertise, starting with the optimization of South Africa’s minibus taxi industry.

Diversity is crucial to a company's growth

Chrissa McFarlane (Founder and CEO, Patientory)

I believe that gender, racial, geographic, and cultural diversity are important to every organization and play a significant role in business growth. It is all about creating an inclusive environment, accepting of every individual’s differences, allowing all employees to achieve their full potential and as a result allowing your business to achieve its fullest potential. It gives you access to a greater range of talent from all over the world and provides insights into the needs and motivations of all your customer or client base, rather than just a small part of it.

For me, I have always recognized the value of diversity and how beneficial it can be to a company's growth. That’s why Patientory, my startup, works to uphold a culture that prioritizes both our work and employees. Prioritizing both within our culture allows us to complete our best work. In fact, our team is a group of individuals from different backgrounds and parts of the world. We are a small yet highly collaborative team working to improve population health outcomes. We realize improving health starts internally with our company workflow.

Encouraging personal growth and development

Natalia Karayaneva (CEO, Propy)

Diversity and inclusion are essential in business today as a healthy variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures provides us with the balance of voices and diversity of thought that we need. Having a working environment filled with employees of different backgrounds, skills, cultures, experiences, and knowledge means that there is an increase in innovative and creative ideas. Minority led organizations are prone to always go the extra mile. I believe a diversified organization encourages personal growth and development. We have employees from all over the world - USA, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia. Propy is female led, and we have always seen this as one of our biggest strengths and this is the DNA of the company.

Accessibility as fundamental part of our mission

Daniel Nathrath (Founder and CEO, Ada Health)

At Ada, diversity and accessibility is a fundamental part of our mission. We believe that everyone, everywhere, should have access to trusted medical guidance that is relevant, actionable and effective. Our cofounding team came together with a shared understanding that AI in healthcare is only as good as the people and data it learns from. We knew that in order to build an inclusive and well balanced AI solution that would have a tangible, significant impact on human health at a global scale, we had to ensure diversity within the medical and technical teams we brought on to build Ada from the very beginning.

When we launched our Global Health Initiative, which aims to improve access to care for the world’s most underserved and vulnerable populations, the importance of diversity became even clearer. Finding local partners, and listening to their experiences, was essential, and we put a huge amount of work into not only translating but also localizing Ada for new languages and regions in order to maximise our impact. It was an important reminder that every person, every race, every country, is different, and that if we want to deliver impactful, personalized health experiences for all, we can’t do that without diversity.

To fight global challenges, we need diversity in all its forms

Bhakti Vithalani (Founder and CEO, BigSpring)

Our mission at BigSpring is to create equality by closing the skills gap. This is a truly global challenge, which is why diversity in all its forms is the core value of our organization. The skills gap impacts everyone, so we need BigSpring as a company to represent the people we’re here to serve - everyone. Our clients and learners can be anywhere in the world, so our teams mirror this geographic diversity. We have team members in Singapore, India, Argentina and the US, speaking over a dozen languages. Working across the globe, cultural diversity at BigSpring is the key to not just helping us understand how skilling can improve people’s lives but empathise and relate to the diverse populations we’re serving. We’re a female founded company where women represent the majority of our leadership team.

My ‘Aha’ moment is something that happens daily. No matter who I’m speaking to, where they’re located or what their background is, I’ve found that there is someone on the team at BigSpring that understands where they are coming from. Understanding any challenge starts with understanding the people it impacts. The more we have in common, the more we understand each other.

Diversity is about enabling and empowering

Meirav Oren (CEO and Cofounder, Versatile)

Versatile has implemented more diversity within their company by enabling and empowering builders to build with the power of data. Data driven decisions allows for less and well controlled overtime, fewer unnecessary steps, and higher levels of safety and predictably. Versatile believes the first step for any improvement is measuring and setting the bar to unlock the future.

Diversity feeds a curious mind We need to remove structural biases for certain communities Diversity is not an option but a mustCreating a culture of inclusivenessDiversity leads to richer ideas and solutionsWe need expertise of different cultures, languages and geographiesDiversity is crucial to a company's growthEncouraging personal growth and developmentAccessibility as fundamental part of our missionTo fight global challenges, we need diversity in all its forms Diversity is about enabling and empowering

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