Return on Diversity #4 – Calling all startups: Culture & Employee Engagement are Drivers for Performance

Employee engagement and culture is fundamental to retaining talented employees and motivating your team towards high performance. As the startup grows, the culture changes. Actively working to develop a culture that fits your scaling organisation is one of the most important jobs for a founder team.

This is no. #4 article in a series about the lack of gender balance within the Danish startup eco system, Bootstrapping are publishing from our guide Return on Diversity. The guide is a collaboration between Bootstrapping, Female Founders of the Future and Nextwork sponsored by Danske Bank and ITB, and supported by Vækstfonden and Danish Business Angels. It’s mission; to provide tools and guidelines for founders, investors and for those who organise investments, on how to help fix the gender imbalance in the Danish startup ecosystem.


Potential: Higher performance through culture & engagement

Knowing how to motivate and take care of all members of your startup team, is central to high performance in your startup. Both in the early going, and especially as you scale and more talents join your team. High performance in your startup is achieved by the output of all it’s members. Managing your culture is paramount to making sure your team members are motivated and feel at home in your startup.


Problem: Diversity without inclusion doesn’t work

As a startup grows, a culture starts to take shape. Importantly, what worked in the initial stage, might not be a fit culture for a growing startup with a larger team of employees. A startup team can become more diverse, but still not be inclusive to those who are not in the majority. Without an inclusive workplace culture, diversity might soon dissipate leading to worse performance, or a “revolving door of talent”, where diverse talents leave your organisation fast – as we have seen 40% of women leaving engineering (Source: University of Wisconsin, ’Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering’, 2012, & Kapor Center for Social Impact. ’The 2017 Tech Leavers study’).


Solution: Focusing on workplace culture as you grow

Getting a head start, and nipping potential cultural problems in the bud will often be the best strategy. Set rules and expectations early – not after you start witnessing diversity or cultural issues.

We suggest the following focus areas, as a starting point for managing your startup culture:


Camilla Ley Valentin, co-founder and CCO of Queue-it, knows the value and importance of focusing on culture:

“We are working under our promise ”fairness first”: For our team, customers, partners and people who queue. We believe that a queue is a fair thing when many people want the same thing at the same time. We try to also use this internally. To make sure that we are equal”.


Solution: Assigning responsibility with a head of culture

As the team grows, more people will have an influence on the culture, as they help create ways of working that either does or does not include others. We suggest appointing a person to be responsible for making sure that newcomers and people who are not in the majority, feel comfortable and are motivated at your startup. A place to start for your new head of culture could be looking at the focus areas above.

We spoke to newly appointed Head of People & Culture in Nøie, Frederik Lysgaard Vind on how he plans to start out:

”Having just started as Head of People & Culture at Nøie and  being ambitious with Diversity & Inclusion  (D&I) here are some of my first items on the agenda:

  1. Fact finding: Interviews with all team members in a semi structured form to get a proper understanding of the current state of the people and culture
  2. Identifying key development initiatives to focus on in order to enabling a truly caring and scalable organization building on engaged, inspired and involved people
  3. Write D&I policy and connect goals and action plan,
  4. Develop the rhythm of business with the team, e.g. meetings, feedback, performance etc. to fit the current and coming wishes for business outcome.

Underneath that is a constant focus on hiring international diverse top talent that fits the organisation culture and can take us to the next level.”


Getting a Headstart on Diversity

Potential: Create a more attractive startup, by getting a headstart on diversity

In this respect, it is important to know, that a diverse team and organisation is more likely to attract the best talent and to perform the best – and statistically they seem to be a better investment. So, there should be many motivations to start working on diversity and inclusion in your startup. Getting a headstart on diversity, could make all the difference.

Problem: When two boys in a garage become two hundred boys in a garage

As a startup, team composition, diversity or gender balance might not be top of mind. In the volatile startup world, there will always be something else to do, and if you are not careful, you will quickly go from two boys in a garage, to two hundred boys in a – slightly larger – garage.

Theis Søndergaard from Vivino, tells us how they only late in the scale-up phase, discovered that even though they had built a culturally diverse organisation, dimensions like gender and age had unintentionally been overlooked. Resulting in significant difficulties in hiring and retaining the female talents.

”When we started to implement a strategic focus of hiring more women, it had just become that much more difficult. It would have been considerably easier, and worth the effort, if we had made diversity in hiring a priority from the very beginning, instead of having to start from a baseline of an office and a culture dominated by men.”


Solution: Make a “non-rocket science” plan for diversity in hiring

Make a simple “non-rocket science” strategy for diversity and gender balance in hiring with a few well-placed stumbling blocks. It could look as simple as this:


Please note: What you have been reading now is just a short line up of all the points, views and angles our guide Return on Diversity deals with. Return on Diversity not only sums up the problems within the startup eco system; we propose and deliver the solutions. Follow this series. Together we will unlock the untapped potential in the Danish Startup Ecosystem. Our articles about diversity will be free to read and in English – and our guide Return on Diversity is as well: Our hope is to reach out to not only Danish founders, investors and VCs about the lack of diversity within the ecosystem, but to all the Nordic countries, so the lack of diversity can be broadly discussed – and acted on.