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Equity & Belonging

Advice on building a diverse team from day one

December 16, 2019 Yovana Becher

Entrepreneur and founder of Abl, Adam Pisoni shares his experiences and insights on hiring a diverse team. This post is part of a series focused on equity and belonging. 

Adam Pisoni looks at diversity from two angles: in his staff, and in schools. Adam’s company Abl is working to set up school structures that support diversity and inclusion for all students. But first, he had to build a team. 

Adam Pisoni, CEO of Abl

When Adam set out to staff Abl, he intended to have a diverse team from day one. With 10 years of experience building teams, he believes having a diverse team is a moral imperative, and that the first 10 to 20 employees you hire set the culture and the tone for the company you’re building. 

Here’s what Adam had to say about building a diverse team from day one.

Q: What did you do for your early recruiting and hiring efforts to achieve diversity from day one? 

Adam: It was enormously challenging. While I had the passion, I didn’t have the network right off the bat. I didn’t want to just hire from my group of friends who look like me. It’s a lot of work to expand your own network and gain access to and trust with lots of different people. 

In the early days, it was a lot of reaching out to people who belonged to communities I didn’t belong to.

And even more than that, you build empathy for people who don’t have the same background as you and it changes your whole perspective on how to approach new people and learn from them.

Q: What results did you see from hiring a diverse team? What do you have to do to actually leverage the diversity – and make culture inclusive? 

Adam: A lot of typical company culture and practices are based on majority groups. When we actually hired a diverse team, I realized we all work differently, and especially resolve conflict differently.

One day I was observing a third-grade classroom, and they were doing communication and social-emotional exercises. One of the students stood up, talked about being bullied and his feelings about that. Then one of the other kids stood up and echoed what the first student said. It was an incredible form of conflict resolution, and I thought to myself: We’re going to do this at work.

Back at Abl, we began introducing reflective listening exercises every week just to work on our communication. We did that for months and it did a huge amount to build empathy and help people understand the foundation of trust is listening. Eventually one of our engineers led a five-week course on nonverbal communication. I learned a ton from that. 

Watch this video to get an explanation of reflective listening.

So I think the most important work we’ve done is not in the hiring process, but in the way you create a company that’s inclusive, made up of people from different backgrounds who can feel like they belong and bring their whole selves to work, and feel seen and heard in the organization. 

Build diversity into your work culture

Adam joined Clever’s co-founder Dan Carroll to discuss his experiences in hiring for diversity during our Elevating Edtech webinar.

Watch the full interview about building a diverse team with Adam Pisoni.

Adam also recommended the following resources for companies or individuals interested in learning about diversity hiring and leadership:

What do diversity and belonging look like for employees at Clever? Clever shares its company demographic statistics in hopes to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in the tech industry and to share our incremental successes. Read our 2019 report.

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