Two years ago, I wrote a blog post titled Making Big Investments in Diversity at a Small Company. The goal was to help inspire action around diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts at companies both large and small. We're well into 2019 and the conversation around diversity and inclusion continues to be at the forefront of community discussions, company goals, conferences, panels, and research.

The annual McKinsey study on Why Diversity Matters recently updated their report to show, "companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians." Diversity is more critical than ever to building and scaling successful businesses, yet as founders, managers, and teammates, we struggle to achieve the diversity we want.

Here are 5 actionable steps to help your company and teams build, scale, and retain a diverse and inclusive team.

Step 1: Build Awareness

As investors, executives, managers, and individual contributors we must collectively foster an environment that builds and encourages awareness around D&I. The first step to diverse and inclusive company growth is helping people understand the profound impact it has on company success.

  • Provide and share industry data on the impact D&I has on a company's bottom line. When in doubt, gather more data.
  • Foster awareness on an individual basis. Use micro-trainings and team rituals to drive and reinforce this awareness at every level.
  • Create psychological safety at team events, company all-hands, or team meetings for people to ask questions and discuss topics around diversity, inclusion, and bias.

Step 2: Develop your Professional Network

As professionals, we tend to hire within or on the periphery of our networks. If you have a predominantly white, male team, there is a higher chance that your hires or referrals will be predominantly white men. Coach executives, hiring managers, and recruiters in the company to expand, engage, and build inroads into other networks and communities. The exercise below proves how important and challenging this can be:

  • Write down the name of one woman who you (a) know personally and (b) holds a senior leadership position in your industry.
  • Write down the name of one person of color who you (a) know personally and (b) holds a senior leadership position in the tech industry.

Can't think of one woman or person of color? Time to start networking!

Step 3: Build an Inclusive Hiring Process

Focus your efforts on recruiting processes as it is typically the engine powering company growth. For example, Cisco was able to improve the likelihood of hiring African-American/Black candidates by as much as 70 percent and Hispanic/Latino and women candidates by 50 percent by enforcing diverse interview panels.

  • Create gender-neutral job descriptions. You can use tools like Textio and Gender Decoder.
  • Create a formal interview training program for hiring managers and employees on how to conduct structured interviews, manage bias, and write effective interview feedback.
  • Build and enforce diverse interview panels across all roles to not only highlight the diversity you have, but also as a way to manage bias.
  • Develop and execute on an employer brand strategy that highlights commitment to diversity, inclusion, and company values. Write about it, share it, and incorporate it into your hiring processes.

Step 4: Set Company Goals and Assign Owners

D&I efforts are often considered a People Operations or Human Resources responsibility when, in reality, it is a company-wide responsibility. Early on at Button, I intentionally stepped back and asked others to take the lead on our D&I efforts which included rotating who would lead the agenda, discussion, and action items at our bi-weekly D&I committee meeting. This seems small, and may be risky, but the reward is great. The collective action, leadership, and commitment across teams has been the biggest driver in achieving greater diversity at Button— including a 22-percent increase in gender diversity over the past two years.

  • Set company-wide D&I goals or OKRs and assign clear owners.
  • Create a D&I committee that checks in on these goals bi-weekly and develops initiatives that will help reach company-wide goals.
  • Secure a D&I budget that aligns with your goals.
  • Don't allow your human resources or people operations teams lead D&I, instead, support and fund cross-functional leadership and ownership.

Step 5: Launch Tools and Frameworks to Reinforce the Previous 4 Steps

Give teams and individuals the tools to build community, measure success, and grow professionally. Depending on the phase of your company, listen to what your team needs and execute accordingly.

  • Launch Employee Resource Groups and provide an easy framework to maintain and launch new groups.
  • Measure workplace D&I efforts through surveys, benchmarks, and company-wide goals.
  • Invest in training and skill development for individual contributors and managers.

The momentum around D&I is strong and ideas are aplenty. I continue to be impressed with the great strides industries and companies have made in an effort to create a more diverse and accepting world for future generations. Keep it up. Don't deprive your company, team, or individuals the opportunity to benefit and grow— keeping turning those ideas into action.