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Build a team around diverse perspectives, not just familiar skills

Make room at the table for multiple voices and the team will surface more comprehensive solutions.

People talking to each other

To build and support diverse teams, create a culture of open communication. | iStock/VictoriaBar

For Elizabeth Weil, MS ’06, Management Science and Engineering, a general partner at 137 Ventures, one hiring decision is particularly memorable.

The company had a job opening that seemed ideal for what she calls “a typical tech company person.” As the job interview process proceeded, the team began to rethink their assumptions. “We started peeling apart what was that job actually going to do,” she says. “We started to look at different candidates, and it turned out the person that was ultimately hired was a high school teacher.”

The teacher had all the skills required to do the job, but was poised to solve problems from a different perspective and add a new kind of voice to the company culture.

Great teams aren’t just diverse, adds Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein, MS ’04, Computer Science. To maximize the impact of a diverse team, you need an inclusive culture. “You need a place where everyone can really feel like they belong, and bring their full selves to work in order to be able to harness the power of that diversity,” he says. For him, that means actively putting himself in situations where barriers to diversity and inclusion can surface. By sitting down with a group of non-male engineers, for example, he learned that female programmers faced difficulties when they were the only female programmer on a team, even if the product manager was also female.

“I try to be mindful all the time of the experiences other people are having,” Rosenstein says. “And yet I consistently find that whenever I go and meet with people who are different from me, I learn about a lot of problems that I was blind to, and in some cases learn about things that I’m contributing to.”

On this episode of the LEAP! podcast, Weil and Rosenstein join Tina Seelig, Professor of the Practice in Stanford Engineering’s Department of Management Science and Engineering, to discuss strategies for building and sustaining diverse, high-impact teams.

You can listen to this episode and dig into other LEAP! episodes via Stitcher, iTunes, Spotify or Stanford eCorner.

In the LEAP! podcast, Tina Seelig — Professor of the Practice in Stanford Engineering’s Department of Management Science and Engineering — takes a deep dive into how to launch a career. LEAP! is produced by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.