DEI for the Startup Community 1: Why DEI Matters when Startups are Fighting for Survival

How can startups think about diversity, equity, and inclusion when they’re simply fighting for survival?  There’s limited time, resources, and attention available, and yet it’s imperative to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture from the ground up.  On our first series, DEI for the Startup Community, we explore how startups can get DEI right from the start, and the role that investors play in supporting them. On episode 1, we’re joined by CEO of The Diversity Movement Donald Thompson.

JOIN THE DEI FOR STARTUPS WEBINAR, presented by The Diversity Movement, with Donald Thompson, Shelley Willingham, and Lister Delgado.  And please donate any amount to the Thurgood Marshall College Scholarship Fund.



Shelley Willingham:  Welcome to Winning with Diversity, a podcast to help you be the diversity champion in your business. This is episode 1 of our series on DEI for the Startup Community, where we discuss how founders can think about DEI when they’re just starting out, why it’s so important, and actionable steps you can take right away to set your company on the path to success.

I’m your host, Shelley Willingham, VP of Business Strategy at The Diversity Movement, and with me today is Donald Thompson, CEO of The Diversity Movement.

How’s it going today, Don?

Donald Thompson:  I’m doing good. It’s good to see ya. I look forward to  chopping it up with you.

I’ve been looking forward to this all week.

Shelley Willingham:  Yeah.

So I’m excited too. So we’ve been talking about this whole concept of DEI and startups for a while. So why don’t you share with the audience how we came up with the idea to do the series?

Donald Thompson:  So a lot of times innovation and ideation is just a function of pattern recognition, right?

When you start to hear the same kind of questions. Right? Over and over again, you’ve got to dig a little deeper and say, right, is there something there?

And so I was working with and have been a big fan and a supporter of the American Underground, which is a startup factory. If you will, right. A startup incubator in Durham, North Carolina, that is home to several hundred startups.

And one of the leading incubators in the Southeast. And I’ve been at Google, for entrepreneurs,  mentor and judge of startup competition. So. Adam Klein, sit down. Why don’t you do a fireside chat with about 12 to 15 of our CEOs and let’s just talk DEI and it was one of the most energizing experiences  that I had because the DEI construct is really built around larger organizations.

And there’s not been a lot of content or communication or programming for emerging businesses that will be impactful businesses. And then the second thing that occurred is one of our clients Abrigo. Technology company based out of Austin, Texas,   brought us on at the diversity movement to build out their DEI programming, but they are a part of a larger VC organization, Excel KKR, and through the work with Abrigo, their chief people officer recommended us to their venture capital firm.

And then we ended up doing a presentation with 40 of their portfolio companies. We then stepped back and said, wait a minute, there might be something here. The third prong to that research, that education is we built a white paper that was really focused on the VC community and their thoughts about growth, capital and diversity equity inclusion.

And so we talked to probably 20 to 25 leaders in the VC community, putting all that together. We said, wait a minute. Not only is there a moment in DEI, but there’s an opportunity for us to be helpful in the startup community.

Shelley Willingham:  Awesome. And it’s so great because you’ve done so many amazing things in this space.

You know, you are a serial entrepreneur angel investor certified diversity executive recently named to the Forbes next 1000. So congratulations for that. So definitely thinking about all of these things coming together around startups and diversity you know,  it’s great to be able to have this conversation with you.

So me as an entrepreneur as well, we know that there are challenges when you’re starting a business. Absolutely. We get that, but we also have the idea and the keen sense to understand that as founders, if you can implement the DEI within your culture early. How that can make a difference in your business long-term.

So maybe we should start in general, just kind of about DEI. So many companies are investing in diversity, equity and inclusion. So why does it matter, especially to a startup right now?

Donald Thompson:  Yeah, one of the things that, you know, when you’re starting an organization and really any size organization, but it’s very acute with a startup, you have limited time, limited money and limited attention.

And so you really have to look at the business case of everything you do, independent of how you feel about it personally. And so one of the things that when we look at DEI for startups, we think about culture and diversity equity inclusion is really a component of building a winning culture. And how do you build a winning culture?

You want to recruit, reward and retain top flight talent. Well, that means your recruiting has to have a DEI lens. You want to create an organization that can sell to market, to communicate with a broad construct from an audience standpoint. That means you need to understand the language of inclusivity.

And so when we think about building a culture, building a business from the ground up, actually diversity equity inclusion helps you make the right choices about your culture build upfront. And so leading CEO’s leading venture capitalists are now starting to understand. And you’ve heard this phrase before in books, culture eats strategy for lunch.

Well, a key component of culture is that your team feels like they can be their full self at work, right? That your retention is high. Your turnover is low, that the productivity of your business is high and people are productive when they don’t feel accepted.

Shelley Willingham:  Absolutely. And we think about diversity and there’s so many different dimensions of diversity.

Let’s talk a little bit about those different dimensions and how they can play into startups. And when you’re trying to build your team and put together the group that you want to work with, that there are more dimensions to diversity than just. Race and gender.

Donald Thompson:  So one of the things, when I talk to business leaders, right?

Diversity, equity, inclusion, typically people do think about the big three, right? So they think about race, right. That jumps off the page, right. They think about gender, right. And then they think about right when you’re talking about sexual orientation, for example. Right. But that kaleidoscope of diversity now extends and should extend to generational diversity.

Right? To neurodiversity, how people learn and process information, right? When you think about disabilities, right? So as we now broaden the construct of what diversity is, it allows us to now more clearly see how those things impact how we work. Let me give a very specific example. Let’s say, for example, we’re having a meeting within a startup 10 to 15 people in the company, and you send out an agenda prior to the meeting.

Well, if you send out that agenda 15 minutes before the meeting, then people that are comfortable talking to think people that are comfortable with moving through topics off the seat of their pants, if you will, are going to be just fine with the meeting. Right. But there are those of us that need to process information ahead of time.

Get our thoughts together. Do a little bit more research. And we can be just as productive, just as valuable. But if we send out the agenda 15 minutes before the meeting, we’re going to have more people that are less engaged than we would like. And that’s a simple, real example about thinking about all the different textures of the DEI from the standpoint of how people learn.

When we think about generational diversity and how we recruit, one of the things that’s really important is 67% of job seekers are looking at DEI in companies they want to work for. So that means if you have no DEI footprint and you’re limiting the power and the impact of your recruiting, why would you want to do that?

Shelley Willingham:  Right. Absolutely. And so one of the things, when we think about startups and founders, they typically surround themselves with their people they trust, right. Their circle. And that probably looks a lot like them. So what advice do you have for founders who are trying to keep that circle tight? They want to diversify that circle, but they really don’t know how to do that.

Donald Thompson:  One of the critical things about building any kind of business is understanding competitive advantage. So when I talked to startup leaders and they talk about their lack of network of diverse candidates, right. I think about how startups are solving problems that haven’t been solved before. And so I just put it back on them and I say, hey wait a minute.

You’re either an innovative leader, or you’re not, you’re either a problem solver or you’re not. And something being difficult is not the question. It is, whether it is meaningful enough, a problem to be solved. And so once I describe it in the same times, as they’re looking at their business, now, all of a sudden I have an open audience to now talk about relationships with HBCUs, how to expand your advisory board.

Even if your team is homogeneous, your advisors, your contractors. Right. Your service providers, lawyers, accountants, diversity can be done in a number of ways. When you think about forming a company, you need legal advice. We were thinking about forming a company, you needed counting advice. You need strategy, advice, all of these things.

You need bankers that are helping you from a financial standpoint. So yes, looking inside from an employee standpoint, but you also have to think about the surrounding team that makes any new business go and thrive. Right. The marketing agency that you choose, so slow down and say, can they do the job? Yes.

But can they do the job? And are they as a service provider? Diverse. And they’re putting in their racial makeup and their generational balance. And so those are some of the things that I tell startup leaders that it’s not just your employee base, all of those things that support the businesses growth.

Shelley Willingham:  Awesome. Those are great points. So I know for me, every startup I’ve done, I had to bootstrap. My daddy didn’t give me a million dollars to start a business. So what do you tell founders that are like, I, I hear you. Don, but money’s tight. So how do we do things on a shoestring budget?

Donald Thompson:  Yeah. So first let me tell you what my daddy gave me.

He gave me a work ethic,

So I said, Hey, how’d you become an entrepreneur? Because my dad made me cut grass all the time. I said, I want to be a business guy because this right here is not my jam. Nothing wrong with it. So, when you think about budgets, when you think about financials, right? One of the things that you can do is when you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing, that doesn’t mean you don’t mind.

Right? That’s true. Right? Yeah. So I’m really an excuse eliminator, right? So when you have low cost, low, low budget for DEI, there’s a lot of free resources. There’s a lot of free webinars. We’re not charging for this podcast. Right? So really it’s about if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing than spend quality time on marketing, when you don’t have a lot of money for DEI, then spend quality time learning, ask DEI experts  I didn’t charge the CEO’s at American Underground for the fireside chat.

Right. And then the three to four follow-up conversations that I’ve had since that meeting. There’s a lot of people in the DEI space that certainly like us at TDM. We’re a, for-profit, we’re building a startup, we’re out seeking even raising capital right now. We understand all those things. However, we have a mission that is more important than any monetary gain.

So we’re going to create avenues of helpfulness. If people ask. And people seek. And so I think the lack of money is not an excuse to do nothing, right. It may mean you can’t do something at scale, but as a startup, you can be creative about how you access DEI content, access DEI expertise, and then you can pull together some self-service components that you can at least get started.

And then as you grow, you can build into your budget. Diversity equity inclusion as a line item as a part of how you grow into the future.

Shelley Willingham:  Absolutely. And as a shameless plug about The Diversity Movement, we have so many fabulous free resources on our site. And this podcast, we do webinars. So to Don’s point, be intentional about wanting to make sure that DEI is a part of your startup part of your culture, and you can find resources to help you as you put that intent for.

So all great points. So when you think about mature businesses and startups. When you think about DEI, as it relates into a mature business, when that relates to a startup, what are the differences or what can startups learn from maybe these mature companies that are maybe trying DEI, not getting it right?

That, because it’s harder to turn that ship, right? Because of a larger, more mature organization. What are some lessons that startups can learn? From DEI mis steps maybe.

Donald Thompson:  So one of the things I’ll seize on that, I think startups by their very nature have to be efficient. I think startups by their very nature have the goal of being very authentic.

So I would say watch the larger companies that talk the talk, but don’t back it up with action. Right? I think that’s the biggest misstep, right? Sometimes literally doing nothing right. Is better, more honest. Then putting out a press release, right. That doesn’t truly align right with how you treat your employees and your current strategy and goals.

So I think number one from a startup perspective is really to slow down and think about the company you want to be right. In three to five years, you do that from a financial standpoint. Very clearly a lot of startups are seeking capital in different things like that. So that’s built in, but in your culture growth tied to your economic growth.

Right. And a lot of larger organizations to your point are trying to retrofit DEI into their business strategy. And it’s much easier to grow and maintain momentum for something that you bake in right from the beginning. And so let me give another example because I’m an entrepreneur, so I like to kind of know the detail of it.

So just talk about hiring practices, right? Making sure that you’re using right inclusive hiring practices, right. That doesn’t mean quotas. That just means if you have an open job rec. That you want to make sure before you fill that job, that you’ve touched on all of the multicultural candidates that you can access and you don’t fill that job until you’ve had a broad interview process that doesn’t mean lower your standard of excellence.

That doesn’t mean sacrificing quality or cultural add. As we like to describe when we’re doing training, what it does mean. Is being intentional about making sure you are talking to all of the best people so that you can choose the best people. And those are some things that you can build in whether you’re hiring two people a year, three people a year or 25 or a hundred, right?

You can be intentional about some of those things. The other thing that I would say that is different and should be with a startup versus a large organization, a large organization has a lot of different leaders. Now, the CEO still drives a lot of the behavior. And the leadership of an organization, even one that has a hundred thousand, 200,000 people, but it is very acute within a startup.

So I highly encourage startup leaders to make sure that their founding team has a personal development journey around DEI. And I think by doing that, you start to naturally start to build, right? That education, that knowledge into the fabric change the way you interview changes, the way you mark it. And then the final thing that I’ll say on that is because VCs are starting to pay attention to DEI.

You don’t want to be out of step with what is now a macro economic trend of how to build winning organizations. So as you’re going out for funding, you’re going to be asked questions about culture that are going to lead to a DEI conversation, and you need to be ready with what your path forward. Your thinking is on that topic.

When you are recruiting top talent, there is an expectation around how diversity equity, inclusion, how we work and live within our society. Right. We call it the triple bottom line, right. People, planet and profit. You’re going to start to get more and more of these questions during the interview. And you don’t want to lose a top developer or top sales professional top marketer, because you don’t have a powerful answer on why DEI matters to your organization.

Shelley Willingham:  That’s excellent. And, you know, as we work with our clients, we’re always making sure that we’re aligning DEI to overall business goals. And so we make sure that we are approaching businesses with the DEI lens. So I’m so glad you brought the point about the VCs, because if we look at trends and as entrepreneurs and startups and founders, we should be looking at trends to see what’s happening in our space.

And so we look at the NASDAQ that is trying to change the rules of the securities and exchange commissions rules around board diversity, right? That’s happening. That’s like something sitting in Congress right now. And venture capitalist firms are starting to say, listen, you got to have this diversity initiative or else.

So when we think about that as a trend, it kind of feels like founders don’t really have a choice and embracing DEI if they want to be successful.

Donald Thompson:  One of the things that, you know, as leaders, as individuals in both our professional and personal lives, right, we can develop quality habits on our own, right.

Or we can be forced to do it at some point in our career for our health, both professionally or personally. And so what we’re encouraging startup founders to do is develop those habits proactively, right. Be on the cutting edge of what’s next, not reacting to what has been right, because the ability to recruit and reward top talent, everyone wants to work in organizations that are committed to their people as much as they’re committed to their profits.

Right. As much as they’re committed to their product. And so that has to come through in our behaviors, not just our rhetoric. And so to your point, you know, I don’t like to tell people they don’t have a choice cause people like to have choices, right. But they don’t have a choice.

I’m like, I tell people, I said, look, hey call me now call me later. But you going to call me one way or another? I said, so like, so w why don’t we talk now? It’s like ease into it. So you don’t have a panic conversation, right? When you lost a million dollars in funding, because right. You didn’t have a DEI strategy.

Right. When you lost two key employees that went somewhere else because you didn’t have a DEI strategy, let’s bake it in so that we’re winning versus the competition versus reacting to the competition. And that’s what most leaders of businesses of all sizes want to do. They want to be on trend with what’s working, and we want to help people do that too.

You’re one of the things Sally, that I appreciate. About our interaction as we work externally with clients and building our company is the way that you describe our business strategy with an equity lens. And the reason that that is really important is because we want people to understand when they’re working with the diversity movement, when they’re thinking about DEI, right.

We’re entrepreneurs. Yeah. Right. So we understand the pain, the joys, right? The cocktail party. Cool. Having CEO on your card and you still try to figure out how to make payroll. Do you know what I mean? Right. The facade and the room. It’s like, like we get it feels good. It is good, but it’s painful to get to the progress.

Right? Right. And so with that understanding and lens, we can understand the business strategy of an emerging organization, but we can give them that equity lens to help them make better decisions. About what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what the impact is.

Shelley Willingham:  Absolutely. And I think that is, you know, when I think about maybe a mistake that a startup founder can make is really being ready.

And we see this happen all the time in larger organizations as well. So when everybody watched what tragically happened to summer with George Floyd, and there was this resurgence of excitement around this topic, there were so many knee jerk reactions that we saw. So there are companies posting statements and saying this and saying that, and there are really, some of those companies didn’t have any follow-up or strategy behind it.

And so I would think that one of the big mistakes that as founder can make, especially in a small organization when you’re just starting, is putting the cart before the horse and not making sure, even if it’s just three employees, that there’s a readiness there to attract diverse talent to have these conversations.

What else can you think about them? We’re thinking about mistakes that they can, you know, founders can make early on. Around this DEI process that we’ve seen with large companies as well. But that we can certainly share with smaller companies to try to help them avoid those.

Donald Thompson:  So one of the things that I’ll come back to an earlier question that, that you scribed and this I think is a mistake, is letting a lack of resource limit your commitment.

Yeah. And you know, another thing I was just thinking of is, as we’re talking is that startups can band together. That’s right. Because a lot of times, you know, if you think about it, you know, a great cookout, everybody brings something to the table, right. Somebody brings some chicken, somebody brings potato salad.

Right. It’s my greens. Right. It brings a dessert. Right. Somebody makes that sweet tea. Right. And you’re like, like I’m going to that cookout and I’m not looking bad, but not bringing something that’s fire. Right. So when you think about startups, And the unity that can exist with startups that are not competitive anyway, but there’s a lot of DEI learning and training that they can kind of pull together resources.

Right. That’s why working with VC communities is really powerful because if $5,000 is all you’ve got, but you’ve got 10 portfolio companies. And now all of a sudden you’ve got $50,000. Now, all of a sudden you can collectively invest in bringing in top flight expertise to what you’re doing. The second thing that I would say in terms of low cost high impact.

And again sure. We’d love for you to work with diversity movement. That’s fine, but we just want you to not do nothing. Right? Right. So if it’s us fantastic, if it’s somebody else fantastic. But, but get into the game of DEI e-learning is something that we think is really, really powerful. Right, because now you can have your organization learn with psychological safety, right.

You can learn at different times, people learn differently. And then when you come to the table for group discussions, that’s another way to keep the education up, but the costs down. Right? And so my whole thing with what startups do wrong is don’t limit yourself based on lack of capital to handle something strategic.

There’s always money to be found script together. There’s always creative ways to do things that are strategic in the business. So now here’s an opportunity. The first step is you’ve got to determine how DEI is strategic to your business at all levels within your company, at your board level, at your executive level, at your team level.

And then through that decision, you will put that creative energy, which makes you a startup, a successful startup, and you’ll push against that problem and find some creative ways to get started and then gain some momentum.

Shelley Willingham:  That’s great. And when we think about startups Don, what advice would you have for companies that are at different levels in their journey?

So say I’m a startup and I have 10 employees, or I’m a startup that has more than 25 employees. What does that look like for different founders in different stages?

Donald Thompson:  So, you know, one of the things that everyone needs to start with right is a couple of fundamental steps. One is awareness, right? Because we use terms as practitioners, DEI, people don’t really understand diversity and all the different elements.

Like we talked about disabilities, neuro-diversity generational ethnicity, all the things that we described. And so one is awareness, right? Why is it important? Why is it important now? The second phase is education. And then the third phase would be action. Okay. And then what you do is you create that loop, right.

Awareness, right? Education, action, awareness, education action. And so now when you’re thinking about how to integrate these things into what you’re doing, when people are aware that something’s important, they’re more likely to be engaged in the education when people are more educated, they’re more likely to take smart action.

And so one of the things that we do with clients when we’re having listening sessions with their teams is we have a data-driven process for analyzing the feedback that we get. Right. We use analytics, we have a proven methodology, and then we segment those points of feedback to then be very, very prescriptive, right.

Of the type of learning schedules that we put within an organization. And so in summary, I think that startups can band together. And I think that the awareness, the education, the action should flow together seamlessly. And as much as this is a topic that is in the national discourse, right? I think a disciplined approach is so much more important than a knee jerk one. And that’s something that I encourage people to think through thoughtfully.

Shelley Willingham:  So of course with us, two entrepreneurs sitting here talking about startups and diversity. We’ve talked about ways we can support startups,  in this space, around DEI. Do you want to share with our audience, some of the things that were thrown around?

Donald Thompson:  Yeah, sure. I’ll say this one of the reasons, and this is like, you know, find somebody better. Good luck. Right. But here’s the reason why, because we’re combining data research. With technology tools and DEI experts, and we’re putting it in a package that startups can afford right now without sacrificing quality or scale in the training we’re making available to startups, the same training that we’re selling to and working with and providing to billion dollar corporations.

And we’re putting it in a package so that no one’s left behind that is important to us. And so we’re creating a package that has a series of e-learning modules. A predetermined set of webinars type programming that we will do to customize for smaller organizations. Not less impactful, not less powerful, but just smaller by number.

Right? Right. And then we’re creating some advisory services around that to wrap that in. So now when you look at the ability of a startup, we want to take away the excuse of can’t afford it. Right. We want to create a price point where we’re packaging it so you can afford not to do it. Right. And we feel like if we believe in the startup ecosystem and communities, if we believe that small, medium sized businesses create jobs for our economy, then we would be doing a disservice to our mission to only work with clients that have a hundred thousand dollars.

So our team has basically said to me as the leader, of the business. We have to find a way to serve people at all income levels at all financial levels in that business growth perspective. And that’s why we’ve launched  DEI for startups and we’ve put together some low cost high impact packages that we think are second to none because we’re not sacrificing quality.

We just think that if we help 150 startups, we have 200 startups. We’ll be fine. Yes. But man, what kind of impact can we make right across the business landscape. And we want to be part of the solution at every turn.

Shelley Willingham:  And I’m so excited about this because we’re, you know, this isn’t something we just read about in a book and watched a webinar and said, let’s create this, we’re living this.

We are a startup we’re entrepreneurs. We’re doing all of the things that we’re talking about. And so we’re able to see where, oh gosh, now I might’ve missed this. Let’s make sure we include this and what we’re talking about and make sure that we share this information. So it is very exciting. In addition to all the things you talked about, we’ve got this free five part series that we’re doing, where low cost, you can make sure that you listen in.

Get some great nuggets, have a takeaway that you can immediately impact and work into your business right now. And just take baby steps. And as long as you’re moving, right, you’re keeping the needle moving then really that’s all we can ask you to do is be intentional and make sure that you are trying to incorporate this where you can.

So we’re excited about the series. We’re excited about the offer and you know, can’t wait to continue this discussion moving forward.

Donald Thompson:  Wow. That’s good stuff. One of the things that, so I have a question for you and, you know, I have lots of ideas, and that, and you are a great sounding board because you firmly and graciously say, no, that makes sense.

And this one, not so much. And  I’m sincerely appreciative of that partnership, but this idea came from you and we were talking about the recruiting process. And so I’d like for you to talk for a minute  to the audience about how at TDM we’re thinking about the recruiting pipeline and how we can create more connectivity between those that have opportunities. And those that are seeking them because there is a challenge in the personal networks, right. Of startup leaders, right. People in the venture capital community and the multicultural candidates. And so how are we going to help create that connective tissue? And I’d love for you to share a little bit about what you brought to the table that we’re about to launch.

Shelley Willingham:  Yeah. So. Really excited about this, but we see this so much with a lot of our larger companies where you’ll start this great recruiting initiative to find diverse talent. But they’re not ready internally for that talent. So if that talent shows up, are they going to feel like they belong? Are they going to feel welcome?

And are they going to leave? Because they don’t see a path to leadership within the organization. So what we’re doing within the diversity movement is helping companies with that strategy, that internal strategy first. So developing that readiness. So what does it mean? What needs to happen internally before you start bringing in a diverse talent pool?

How are you going to connect with, to Don’s point a network where you can create this pipeline of ongoing talent. And so we have a process where we’re helping companies establish relationships with different organizations. To help establish this type of  this pipeline, but also to help you navigate that relationship.

So it is authentic. It’s not, Hey, we want to reach out to the black accountants because we need some black accountants. Okay. Yeah. But there’s a better way to do that. Right? So building relationships within community to not only help strengthen that pipeline, but look at what you’re doing for your brand in that community.

So building that, helping you look at mentorship opportunities within your organization to help people that are diverse, see paths of leadership for themselves. And so figuring out what that looks like with succession planning, making sure that there’s pay equity, making sure that there’s no bias in the way that you hire people.

The questions that you’re asking, where you’re advertising, what’s your ads may look like. So all of those pieces come together. When you’re thinking about a recruiting strategy, it’s not just getting them in the door, but it’s what happens once they get there. And then we also are excited about a partnership where.

We’re able to help companies that really want to source that high level executive level talent, where you hear, you know, you’ve heard CEOs say, well, I don’t know where to find that type of person. Well, we can help you do that because they’re out there. And so a lot of the times it’s just making the connection.

So with this new offer that we are presenting soon, we’re going to help you build internally to make sure you have the readiness. We’re also going to help you externally with your employer brand, but then we’re also going to help you make the connections to build community around what you’re doing, which is not only just a great thing to do for your business, but also could contribute to the, efforts you may have around corporate responsibility and just being a good corporate citizen.

So very excited. Can’t wait to launch.

Donald Thompson:  Good stuff. No, I’m, excited. Any more questions for me? This has been great. I’m having a good time.

Shelley Willingham:  I don’t think so. Let’s save some for episode number two.

Donald Thompson:  Yeah,  the last thing that I would describe, right? As we kind of wind down this conversation, we’re talking about a journey. We’re talking about a long-term game plan to build a winning culture so people can win at work.  We’re not talking about a microwave mentality to these issues. One of the very powerful values that we provide to our clients. And I was talking to, the Dean of a very prestigious medical school the other day.

And I won’t name drop. It’s not appropriate. But what I want to share is that DEI is important across healthcare, across technology.  I was on the phone with the president of a university the other day in higher education leaders in nonprofit, all industries and sectors have had the awakening. The unique business advantage for partnering with TDM is we try to get to the, how to drive behavioral change, where most people are stuck in the why we should.

And you need both because the result demanded of leaders for decisions they make. So making DEI, a strategy means that there will be accountability for, does this strategy help grow the business, right? Why is this good for the business? And so we work with executives to not only formulate that strategy, articulate that strategy, but deliver on that strategies promise.

And that’s something that we take very seriously and we are a phone call away. And we don’t put this part of our offering in the SOW but the CEO’s we work with have our cell numbers. And if they need 10 to 15 minutes before they go into a meeting, if their PR team needs us to review a press release, the reason we don’t have thousands of clients is because we put so much into the ones that we have, and we’re working as a startup to figure out scale and all that.

But right now, Right. If somebody signs up with us, they are a part of our family, right. And our job is to help them win in the marketplace and win through building winning cultures. And those are things that, you know, I just would be remiss to share in terms of the business we’re trying to build. And to your point about the next episodes, you and Jackie, you’re going to talk about building culture from the ground up, and that’s what we’re living right now.

And so we are experts in how to do it and things we did scarily wrong, right? Like things,  that we did not anticipate at all the things that in between and the authentic nature of our team is that we own our mistakes and we fight for improvement every day. Yeah. And  that kind of leads us on the right path.

So Shelly, thank you for hosting this.  You know me, like, I’m always one question away from a seminar. I appreciate the space to get this podcast series jumped off and hopefully you can tell this is deeply passionate to me because I believe in dream chasers and I’m a super fan for startup founders and leaders that have taken that courageous step.

Right to create a new business, create new jobs, right. Where success is not guaranteed. So thanks for having me.

Shelley Willingham:  Thanks very much. And before you go, I just want to ask you one question, because you know, you are, you consult for startups. You’re on several boards have been a mentor for Google, for startups, black founders exchange. In general, what is one piece of advice that you can give to startup founders to walk away with today?

Donald Thompson:  That’s a very, very good question. I would synthesize it like this, your network is your net worth. So that means if your network around DEI or other skills you need is lacking, right, then it is up to you as a business leader to fix that. And one of the things that, is really powerful about that is it takes intention and hard work, but not a lot of money.

Because most people that are really talented will have a cup of coffee virtually, or when we get vaccinated and all that, if you’re an anti-vaxxer, don’t hang up, but like, I’m going to be rocking with people that got the vaccine right. Quick. Yeah. In masks. Right. You know what I’m saying? But you know, to each his own, that owner to beat what you virtually, if you’re not down with it.

But the point is that most successful people are always open up a cup of coffee with a dreamer. Right. Because nobody that has met with any level of success has done it on their own, right. Somebody helped them, somebody mentored them, somebody coached them, somebody believed in them. And so most truly successful people have a give back component to what makes them feel whole.

And so you, as a startup founder, need to access that for areas and expertise where you’re struggling a little bit, and don’t be afraid to make that ask. And that would be my piece of advice.

Shelley Willingham:  Awesome. Love that.  Before we get going, I want everyone listening to know that we will be holding a special webinar, DEI for the startup community on Thursday June 3rd at 12:00 Easter Time, and we want YOU to attend. The signup link is in the show notes, and here’s the deal: you can sign up to attend this webinar by donating any amount to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. And if you want to sponsor this event, contact us at (email?). I’m so excited for this, and I hope to see you there.

Alright, thanks for listening, everyone. We’ll be back again soon but until then, be sure to visit for more podcasts, articles, and educational content.

This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence.

I’m Shelley Willingham, and we’ll see you next time on Winning with Diversity.

Full Episode Transcript

Winning with Diversity is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by VP of Business Strategy Shelley Willingham, and is a production of Earfluence.

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