Amsterdam is a melting pot, yet a new survey says its startup scene isn’t: what needs to change?



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The city of Amsterdam is considered a delightful melting pot of people from all shapes, sizes, colours, sexual orientations, and cultures. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said from its bustling startup ecosystem. The good news is: many startups have taken their first steps towards a more inclusive team, according to a survey from the Dutch Startup Association (DSA). We spoke with StartupAmsterdam’s Talent & Diversity Lead Igneta Skliaustyte about the steps ahead.

First steps to more diversity

One of the main findings of the Diversity and Inclusion report of 2020 [pdf here] by the Dutch Startup Association is that many companies are doing ‘something’ to increase their diversity. 89 Percent of startups have implemented at least one diversity policy. Most frequent policies include having a clear understanding of how diversity is linked to bottom-line performance, using a diverse team to interview candidates and including the value of diversity in the company’s mission.

However, the report also highlights the startup scene in Amsterdam is mostly homogeneous. White men are disproportionally featured in the composition of teams. 62 Per cent of respondents identify as male, 70 per cent as white. Men and white people also hold more equity in companies than women or people with a different cultural background. Together with The Next Women and Young Global People, DSA now launches a Diversity & Inclusion Desk where startups can find advise on changing these dynamics.

‘We miss action from companies’

“I’m a bit disappointed”, says Igneta Skliaustyte about the findings in the report. As Talent & Diversity Lead at StartupAmsterdam, her job is to advise companies on how and where they can find tech diverse tech talent to join their fast-growing teams. “Especially seeing that less than half of the companies answered they do not have an understanding about how diversity relates to business goals and don’t include diversity in their mission statement. We do miss more action from companies in general. However, we should also evaluate whether our methods and the message we are sending as a city is the right one.”

Read also: With female founders receiving hardly any funding, Amsterdam’s push for diversity continues

A good example Skliaustyte and StartupAmsterdam are involved in is the TekkieWorden Week. The week-long programme aims to introduce youngsters of different backgrounds to an education and a job in the tech world. Another initiative StartupAmsterdam is involved in is TechMeUp, which recently started offering an interest-free loan for people to enrol in a tech-related education. Both actions strive to introduce more of the underrepresented demographics into the world of tech. StartupAmsterdam is also building on a new joint initiative with over twenty female organisations called RISE.

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The benefits of a diverse team

A vital question tech leaders have when facing the call for more diversity is: what’s in it for the company? According to the report from DSA, ‘there is no general evidence available of increasing a companies’ profit by adding minorities.’ 

Skliaustyte acknowledges for starting companies, the long term investment of increasing diversity may not be of the highest priority. “When you’re only just beginning, your company may not have the financial flexibility to make decisions that seem like an investment. So when deciding who to hire, smaller companies tend to make more quick and safe choices.  They mostly end up hiring men for tech jobs, also because the majority of candidates are men.

So Skliaustyte urges tech leaders not te be discouraged in finding different people for the same job. “I truly believe a diverse team can increase performance and provide better dynamics in the company. More than half of the people in Amsterdam have a migration background. You can’t afford not having them in your team. And everyone brings something new to the culture, something you can learn from with time.”

Protip: check your job postings

Skliaustyte says it is up to the leadership of a company to create the correct mindset and communicate that vision for the team. That might be easier said than done. Because what to do if you put out a job posting, and only white dudes show up? “Maybe I sound a bit harsh, but you might then be targeting the wrong group”, says Skliaustyte. 

For instance, Skliaustyte says that in her experience, from talking to female coders, a job post can already imply it is not a suitable environment for women. “Coders say that sometimes it is already clear from the job posting that a team is not diverse. I know this is a chicken and egg problem, but it can also be about company culture. The way you describe team building and the values your company hold.” 

Recruiters should have this in mind when looking for people outside the usual pool of talent, says Skliaustyte. “They need to try and speak the same language. If you want women or people with a migrant background, you need to incorporate it into your acquisition strategy. Enough is going on in the city for you to find this talent pool.”

To find out what is going on exactly and how your startup can increase its diversity, you can contact the Dutch Startup Association, which has its own Diversity & Inclusion Desk for tips and advise. You can also get in touch with Igneta Skliaustyte at StartupAmsterdam.

Picture: Igneta Skliaustyte, Talent & Diversity Lead StartupAmsterdam


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Dennis de Vries

Writes about technology for as long as anyone remembers. Hangs out with Apple, Samsung and Sony, but is just as interested in the Google-killer you're currently building in your parents' garage. You can reach him via [email protected]

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