This month the Virgin Unite Entrepreneurship team is focusing its attention on diversity, and how it helps entrepreneurs build stronger businesses. 

Successful entrepreneurs often learn as they go, hastily building the road just one step ahead of the speeding juggernaut that is their business.

But diversity is something all entrepreneurs should make the time to consciously factor in as a business grows – starting with their very first hires. Research shows time and time again that it presents significant benefits, ranging from new market opportunities to averting a crisis.

Today’s global workforce is unrecognisable from a generation ago. There are more women in the workplace, more ethnic minorities on boards, and more CEOs open about their sexuality; with diversity driving better innovation, and encouraging businesses to strive to be active citizens.

It sounds simple, and yet moving the needle is significantly harder for established businesses with entrenched cultures, than it is for new organisations breaking ground. It is also a challenge for start-ups with small teams.

At a forum on diversity in tech earlier this year, Google’s Director of Global Diversity Talent and Inclusion, Yolanda Mangolini, said that it was hard to generate even a one per cent shift towards improved diversity in an organisation of Google’s size.

Yet in contrast Etsy managed to increase the number of women in its engineering team fourfold in just two years, thanks to a sustained and deliberate series of programmes that incentivised women to join. With a female customer base of 80 per cent, Etsy had anticipated that having more women in the team would result in gains in customer innovation, but they were also surprised to see notable improvements in the quality of their engineers, regardless of gender. By focusing on improving diversity, Etsy demonstrate to candidates that they value their values, which makes the proposition of working there even more appealing. 

This shows that today’s entrepreneurs have a great opportunity to leave the laggards behind and leverage diversity in ways that will truly support the growth of their businesses. Just like starting good habits that last a lifetime, thinking deliberately about diversity now will mean it quickly becomes second nature. 

Here are some simple but effective ways that entrepreneurs can address diversity today:

Build your network
The value of networking is emphasised at each of the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship, which Virgin Unite part-funds. The centres train and develop new business leaders and provides online mentoring and peer-to-peer support. By being open to feedback and insight from a wide range of people, entrepreneurs can be more certain that their products and services fully reflect the needs of their diverse customers.

Consciously rethink your hiring practices
Whether you’re a company of two or 200 people, having a recruitment policy built on values and diversity will bring talented people to your door, and make them want to stay. A core part of the mission behind the work of Virgin Unite Entrepreneurs is to help start-ups place purpose at the heart of all they do, including creating job opportunities for the communities business leaders work in.

Promote diverse behaviours
There are inherent diversity traits, such as the colour of your skin, and acquired diversity traits that encompass the way you behave as a result of your experiences. Good diversity behaviour is something which can – and must – be celebrated, encouraged and promoted. Richard Branson previously wrote about how discriminatory behaviours will only hold a business back – such as the $700 billion in spending power from the LGBT community in the US who say they prefer to buy from gay-friendly businesses.

Start-ups contribute substantially to job creation, and in doing so they set precedence for how diverse new workforces can be. If you’re an entrepreneur, put diversity at the top of your agenda today to see what a difference that difference can make.

We’ll be sharing case studies of amazing entrepreneurs and a more in-depth piece around the topic of diversity later this month – so watch this space! We’d also love to hear your thoughts on diversity in the comments box below.

If you want to support our work with entrepreneurs and the Branson Centres, you can do so by donating.