Notes from Lucinda

How to Apply a Startup Strategy to Increase Team Diversity

Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard | Jul 27, 2022

Open Book: Issue #9

Companies that decide to build a more diverse pipeline to their executive team often make one critical mistake: they simply add “diversify pipeline” as a to-do item for their HR team.

 It’s more than that. Successfully growing a diverse pipeline requires the kind of company-wide strategic thinking you’d apply to a startup. 

First, you need to define your why

There are endless reasons why it’s important to create a diverse leadership team, not least of which is the moral imperative. You need to determine what you’re trying to do qualitatively and why. Are you looking to increase business performance? Reflect your customer or employee base? Align with your company’s values? Whatever the reason, it needs to be defined.

Turn your qualitative goals into quantitative ones

It’s time to get specific: create measurable milestones. Give each milestone a number (e.g. increase the executive team’s diversity by 50%). Then, do the math to find the conversion rate you’ll need at the top of your recruiting funnel to achieve your goal. Your conversion rates for historically excluded executives may be lower because of (conscious or unconscious) bias in your hiring process. 

Choose your tactics

The single most important vetting tactic to reduce bias is to hire based on competencies, rather than experience. You can read how to do this in 5 Best Practices to Hire for Competencies (Not “Experience”). The second is to uncover bias at all of the stages where it shows up in your funnel. Is it happening at sourcing, outreach, contact, interviews, offer, negotiation, closing, or retention? Measure performance at every phase, like you would every other critical business process. Create a plan for how to reduce bias, and put it into action. You can read more about how to create a plan by downloading our new resource, A Guide to Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Executive Talent.

Get company-wide buy in

Bring everyone together to explain why you’re diversifying the executive team and how you're going to do it. Be transparent throughout the process about how things are going and what you’re learning as a company and as a leader. Sometimes these conversations can be uncomfortable. The only path to success is to model having uncomfortable conversations, making mistakes, learning, and trying again. When a company diversifies its pipeline, it’s making a systemic change. Because everyone in the company is a part of that system, they all need to be a part of the process. 

Measure, reflect, and iterate

Don’t wait until you're at the end of the process to assess your results. Set benchmark metrics for every stage of the process and note how you’re doing against them. If everything is working, great! What’s more likely is that you’re going to have to ask yourself:


  • What worked and how can we do more of that?
  • What didn’t work and why?
  • What are we going to do differently this time?


Every time you go back through the cycle, you’ll gain more data to inform your results.

It can be challenging to reach networks you’ve never tapped before (that’s why we built AboveBoard) and to reduce bias in your hiring and retention processes. Don’t give up. It’s worth it for your business and for the future of diverse leadership.

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Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard

Serial entrepreneur, Founder/CEO of AboveBoard, an inclusive platform for executive search

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