I have to say that I wish we lived in a world where reports, like the one launched today, would be obsolete. Where we didn’t have to write studies on why inclusion and diversity matter. Where diversity would be seen as the crucial element of success it so obviously in today’s world is. And where inclusion would be the base element for happy and productive life it so fundamentally must be.
We live in a world where good can never be good enough. We constantly strive for better performance; better outcome; better quality; better bottom line. The greatest transformations of our time – climate change, urbanization and digitalization – require us to do even better every day. Technological advances give us the tools to succeed in solving these universal challenges. Our survival and happiness is based on our ability to use the best talent, the best technology – and the best people. Especially in the start-up sector finding the right people with the right job can make the difference between world class success and an early failure. Why then are we struggling to recognize the importance of inclusion and diversity?
In 2017 two-thirds of the 10,000 leaders surveyed as part of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report cited diversity and inclusion as “important” or “very important” to business. Unfortunately, the fact that we recognize something as important does not automatically lead to us embracing or prioritizing it. Why is it so hard for us to see value in something so widely recognized?
I want to make a case for diversity and inclusion from start-ups perspective from 5 different points of view.
- Managing change. In today’s world the only way to flourish is to be able to adapt to constant change. Ability for adaptation does not grow out of schooling or learning. It springs from different life experiences, cultural understanding and embracing varied points of view. In short – in order to be able to master change you must be diverse.
- FOSTERING CREATIVITY. In order to truly leverage creativity and innovation start-ups must be able to bring different ideas and ways of approach together in a natural way. The more complex an issue the more varied the process that leads to the optimal solution. Diverse teams find creative solutions faster and are more likely to add value to creative processes.
- Developing understanding. The world changes at a speed faster than never before in a truly global outlook. In order to develop products and services that find a larger audience, start-ups must work from an international perspective from the outset. In Helsinki, where the marketplace is so small that most start-ups must direct towards the international market from the very beginning, we see rapid development in market understanding. Helsinki has the most interconnected start-up ecosystem in the world, and this is not due to its size, but to the understanding that interconnectedness creates value for all.
- Diversity is not enough. Diversity alone does not guarantee success. In order to leverage talent to its full potential companies must create a culture and an ecosystem that truly supports inclusion and the experience of belonging. Without shared understanding and a shared reality diversity does not reach its full potential. This leads to my final point:
- Leadership. Fostering organizational culture and values is everyone’s responsibility but creating an environment where these issues become a business value is the job of the leadership. Committed, active leadership ensures that the teams will have a chance to create their own inclusion cultures that are genuine – not forced.
In Helsinki, like in many other cities around the world, one of our greatest challenges at the moment is that we are not able to attract enough skilled workforce for the start-ups, especially in high technology jobs. It should be the responsibility of the government to make a systemic change to the visa application process that would pave the way for graduates to remain in Helsinki and professionals move here from other parts of the world. In line with that the city must address the issues that fail us in the competition with other cities.
Based on a study we conducted last year with Slush the basic conditions are viewed as positive – Helsinki is a highly functional city where everything works. Safety, public transportation, health care, education – quality of life are all good. Everyone speaks English. Start-up ecosystem is supportive. However, one of the reasons why people still felt that Helsinki might not be for them on the long term was that we are not international enough. People were doubtful that they would feel at home in a community that is still for the most part made from like-minded, white, Finnish-speakers.
This is an issue that I as a Mayor struggle every day. It is easy to provide an inclusive environment if everyone is the same. A large part of the Finnish history is based on this notion. However, the modern world does not support or value our hermetic way of life. We must open up to the world in a way that might seem painful for some. Diversity is the destiny of the world. The richness and humanity of it will make us more whole and unified. However, transformation in Finland requires strong leadership and collaboration between the start-up ecosystem and the public sector.
A recent study showed that less than 20% of start-up founders are women. Several studies have found that women in the start-up world experience bias. Lack of role models and support networks has been contributed. Women—accounting for an average of just 16 % of the members of executive teams in the United States constitute approximately half of our work force. If we are not able to include women, how are we ever able to build a truly inclusive community?
Beyond good will diversity also means good business. Many studies have shown that companies with high racial and ethnic diversity are likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. If the bottom line does not get our attention, then what will?
Start-ups will, for a large part, be responsible for if and how we champion our collective future. It is crucial that founders make diversity and inclusion a priority. Do it for the business success. Do it for the money. Do it for the competitive edge. Do it for the brand. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.