How a company can protect and care for their culture as they grow

Despite the Great Resignation and talk of quiet quitting and firing, the world of work hasn’t changed that much. Especially when it comes to the gap in equity for women and people of color. For answers on how to balance the demands of humanity and business, Quartz at Work talked with Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor…Read more……

Despite the Great Resignation and talk of quiet quitting and firing, the world of work hasn’t changed that much. Especially when it comes to the gap in equity for women and people of color. For answers on how to balance the demands of humanity and business, Quartz at Work talked with Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, coauthors of Closing the Equity Gap: Creating Wealth and Fostering Justice in Startup Investing to hear more about how a fresh perspective can help change the systems we work in.

What is stakeholder capitalism, and how does it impact the world of work?

Stakeholder capitalism implores us to look at various groups touched by a business—employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities in which it operates—not just a singular focus on shareholders or the bottom line. It aims to create a more equitable economy by aligning the interests of all parties the company has an impact on for the betterment of more than just profits.

To eliminate bias in tech, you’re calling for a new generation of VCs, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to make the changes necessary and build in equity from the start of a new company. With such a big ask, what’s needed at the systemic levels to make this happen?

It’s much easier to bake in a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the beginning of a company than to try to retrofit it. Culture gets set early. We help our founders set goals that are not check-the-box or performative exercises; instead, we ask them to try to have their employees reflect the demographics of their customers. That’s simply good business.

When in growth mode, how can companies intentionally build their cultures?

Rapidly growing companies attract different kinds of employees at different stages. Some people love the chaos, pace, and close relationships of a raw startup—all which impacts their culture. Others thrive with more structure and a career path in a company with more established products or services. In high-growth startups, many people’s jobs outgrow them, or they don’t want to work for a big “corporation” with a lot of what is often perceived as formality or bureaucracy.

It’s essential to recognize that the company wouldn’t have gained traction and been successful without those drawn to the earliest stages. As companies grow, they must preserve and share their origin stories. Capturing the voices and contributions of early employees will make sure the story is accurate and honors their work.

What is an ombuds, and why do companies need one?

Ombuds are more common in countries outside the US and are often found in educational institutions. They are neutral, independent, and confidential resources loyal to a set of values rather than expected to always side with management or employees. Ombuds are practical problem-solvers who offer a safe sounding board to employees without triggering a formal complaint or investigation.

Often we need to ask someone whether we are too sensitive to something that bothered us or whether we have a right to speak up. Perhaps we need more information on what’s entailed in filing a formal complaint. Or we need guidance on how to tell a manager that we need a more flexible schedule to take care of a newly disabled relative.

Ombuds not only help employees navigate tricky situations but also aggregate information and provide it to senior management, often providing early warning signals about essential issues that will tank morale or result in bad publicity, offering an opportunity to intervene before things escalate. Whether you find through a company like or build the talent internally, they’re still not ubiquitous because, as of yet, it hasn’t made sense for smaller firms and startups with tiny teams and stretched budgets, to bring one on board full-time.

What’s an example of an empathetic business model playing out?

Bitwise has one of the most palpably empathetic business models. One of the co-founders/co-CEOs, Irma Olguin Jr., can often be found wearing a t-shirt or sweatshirt emblazoned with “Nobody belongs here more than you.” She means it, and the company means it. They operate in 10 “underestimated” or often overlooked cities, establishing tech ecosystems and offering paid apprenticeships. They recognize that it’s daily life rather than talent or dedication that gets in the way of learning new skills; they provide child care, transportation, and help with feeding one’s family if any of those are obstacles to pursuing new competencies that put one on a whole new economic footing.

There is often a struggle to gain buy-in on hiring more women and people of color for tech roles. Have you seen a company be successful at this?

Health Sherpa has signed tens of millions of people up for the Affordable Care Act quickly and compassionately. By emphasizing their mission and including it in hiring requirements, they could find great talent from all demographic groups committed to it. Aligning incentives is a key way to effectively change company practices. When Health Sherpa led with their commitment to helping low-income people obtain health insurance, more talent from families who had suffered due to lack of affordable care became applicants. When employees’ lived experience aligns with a company’s mission, it provides great insight into product development and customer acquisition and increases employee loyalty. Building a robust culture entails alignment between employees’ values and how the company operates daily.

What roles do employees play in eliminating bias in tech?

We encourage employees to consider a company’s values and culture when seeking employment. Suppose more employees voted with their feet (especially in good job markets) and less often had to check themselves at the door. In that case, they’d be much happier, and the company’s productivity would increase. Ample research points to millennials and younger workers rating the alignment of a company’s values with their own to be critically important in their employment decisions.

How can a company avoid being “ramen profitable” and support its talent in unique ways?

“Ramen profitable” refers to everybody at the company living together, sharing an apartment, and only eating ramen. Then the startup can be profitable. But that’s not a way for grown-ups to live, especially if they have families. Employers should strive to understand the array of obstacles that talented prospective employees may face and strive to offer flexible benefits to address them. Kapor Capital provides student loan assistance as a benefit. Other employers offer mortgage assistance. Many offer the opportunity to use one’s benefits tailored to each employee’s needs, such as child care, elder care, and pet care. Giving people the flexibility to utilize those benefits in a way that benefits their unique circumstances—as simple as it sounds—is not something a lot of organizations offer. But it’s an easy way to build in additional support for employees.

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