Organizational Culture: How to Talk About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Learn how startups can create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

By Lindsey Marlowe

September 1, 2021



A few weeks ago in a Santa Monica arts space, M13 hosted our first fireside chat of the year. Thanks to exceptional panelists and our cohost ThinkHuman, the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion in a startup environment was explored through individual struggles with bias. Many questions from the audience also reflected efforts to scale culture in their organizations.

We facilitated this conversation in a public forum not because we’re experts, but because we believe in learning and growing through our community of founders, entrepreneurs, and partners.

‍DEI is not just the right thing to do—it’s also a crucial component of organizational success. Our panelists noted the advantages that an inclusive culture delivers: increased innovation, better decision-making, expanded market share, improved product development, enhanced understanding of consumer behavior, and a larger talent pool.


‍Special thanks to ThinkHuman, our moderator Meredith Haberfeld (right), and panelists Jay Bendett (left), Matt Hoffman (second from left), Lauryn Nwankpa (center), Kevin Kearney (not pictured), and Kevin Yip (not pictured).

Our panelists agreed that creating an inclusive culture from the onset can reverberate throughout every stage of growth. Organizations with an established DEI culture find it easier to recruit great talent and maintain diverse decision-making bodies as they scale up.

Panelists recognized that it’s not always comfortable to educate oneself on ways our own bias might be affecting our companies. They emphasized the need to continually challenge and question ourselves. For example, a founding team that appears diverse on the outside might actually represent one core personality or value this misses out on the advantages of true diversity, which involves talented people who not only don’t look like us but don’t think alike.


Here are some of the takeaways from our panelists:

Recognize that DEI is a need, not a want and we can’t win without it

Start working on our DEI culture from the beginning, the earlier the better

Use diversity surveys and internal and external experts

Allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable, and learn from that experience

Set the tone with strong leadership initiatives and employee led efforts will thrive

Investing money without quantifying the ROI will pay off in ways you can’t even imagine.

Our panelists agreed that the individual components of diversity, equity, and inclusion must be tackled equally.

Here’s how some of our panelists defined each component:

Diversity is the gathering of people from different backgrounds

Equity is making sure the leadership table is diverse and that everyone has a path to advancement

Inclusion is how comfortable your employees feel in workplace situations (i.e. can they be themselves?)

If any one of these three elements is missing, the whole process breaks down. Diversity without inclusion? Diversity without equity? It doesn’t work. We have to address each and every component in order to create a successful organizational culture.


The panel discussion inspired more questions than there was time to discuss. We’re creating a forum for best practices on M13’s platform to further explore sustainable company-building based on crowdsourced questions such as:

How do we break the pattern of hiring employees and team members who are just like us?

What type of technology/products/services are most helpful in creating and upholding DEI in your organization?

I am the only female on a leadership team and have a limited role in hiring. What can I do to help the founder with diversity, which he says is important?

What tactics have you used to create authentic empathy and intention with a leadership team that have worked?

As a different kind of venture dedicated to building sustainable companies, M13 will continue to learn and grow along with our outstanding founding teams. Creating a thriving DEI culture is a process that we will pursue alongside the entire M13 family.