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Houston expert: How to attract and recruit a diverse workforce for your startup

Creating a thriving culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires intentional focus and allotment of time and resources. Photo via Getty Images

The recent and long overdue awakening to systematic racism in the United States has brought with it a focused attempt to create more equitable opportunities in the workforce. Organizations are investing time reviewing their historical selection and performance data, creating new strategies for attracting applicants from historically underrepresented groups, and investing resources to ensure ongoing support and inclusion for all members of their community.

Startups in the early stages of bringing in personnel and crafting organizational culture have the advantage of building from a blank slate, and can benefit from implementing recruitment and selection strategies shown to help increase diversity.

Internal review

Prior to developing any strategic recruitment plan, companies must first perform an in-depth internal review of company culture, values, and future plans for growth and evolution. Defining these organizational attributes will help the company better understand the types of individuals who will thrive in the environment so that it can 1) accurately market the company and 2) maximize person-organization fit (P-O fit). P-O fit describes the extent to which an individual’s competencies, values, and preferences are compatible with the organization’s core values and offerings and has been linked to higher job satisfaction, job performance, and organizational commitment along with decreased turnover. Carving out the company’s current and desired culture, values, and goals for growth can serve as a starting point for accurately marketing the company to prospective applicants, understanding what applicant attributes and values will be the best fit for the company, and creating outreach and screening methods accordingly.

Information sharing

After an organization has performed a thorough internal exploration, it can then begin to share relevant information with prospective applicants. By and large, much of this information is gleaned by applicants through organizational websites. Indeed, organizational websites are often the main source of information for applicants and can provide a positive first impression and communicate its culture to leverage P-O fit. Research also suggests that companies cannot go wrong by sharing too much information about the organization on their website and through social media.

Companies can also ensure that the information provided on their websites and on social media pages demonstrate pictorial diversity, as including pictures of minorities has been shown to increase organizational attraction among Latinos and Blacks. Including video testimonials from any incumbent employees who reflect the diversity the organization is trying to attract can also enhance employer attractiveness. Finally, organizations seeking to increase diversity – but with little baseline diversity – should be honest about their current diversity climate with prospective applicants. Being transparent about current diversity figures, along with goals for future growth and specific strategies taken to enhance the diversity climate, can be a successful strategy as well. It is much better for an organization to provide an accurate snapshot of the current milieu so that informed decisions can be made, as inflated and inaccurate expectations among new entrants can result in job dissatisfaction and turnover.

Targeted recruitment

Companies seeking to increase the demographic diversity of applicants can also engage in targeted recruitment by focused advertisement and promotion at schools who graduate large number of underrepresented minorities. For example, partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), such as Prairie View A&M University, Texas Southern University, and St. Phillip’s College, can ensure broad reach. Creating virtual visit days, providing lectures to students, and other educational outreach programs with these institutions can broaden awareness and interest.

Selection

Organizations must continue to ensure equitable opportunities for all even after receiving applications from a diverse group. Shortlisting applicants based on certain pieces of information in the application can be at odds with efforts to create a diverse workforce. For example, reliance on standardized examination scores, such as SAT and ACT, can negatively impact underrepresented minority applicants. Letters of recommendation are also often frequently relied upon in selection, despite their discriminatory origin and evidence showing differences across genders and socioeconomic groups. Finally, use of unstructured interviews can also increase susceptibility to biases against minority groups. Thus, companies should only incorporate screening tools and processes that will not disadvantage applicants from different backgrounds.

Other selection methods can help programs achieve their diversity goals. For example, inclusion of structured interviews can ensure interviewers avoid common interviewing mistakes and providing unbiased ratings.Often, small details can have a large impact on hiring decisions. For example, applicants with accents and ethnic names are often disadvantaged during interviews, receiving less favorable interview ratings. Similarly, overweight candidates receive significantly lower performance ratings in interviews, compared to average weight candidates. Finally, studies have shown an overall bias against pregnant women in interview settings. Fortunately, these studies have also shown that structured interviews reduce these biases. Thus, standardizing which questions are asked and training interviewers to avoid inappropriate and potentially illegal questions is critical.

In conclusion, companies seeking to enhance the diversity of their workforce must consider their practices and policies in recruitment and selection. Unfortunately, there are no “quick fixes.” Creating a thriving culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires intentional focus and allotment of time and resources.

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Aimee Gardner is the co-founder of SurgWise, a tech-enabled consulting firm for hiring surgeons, and associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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