Nav Search

Many entrepreneurs and business leaders value diversity. Richard Branson even argues that the most successful companies view diversity as an asset. That’s great, but what does this all mean to startup entrepreneurs and the startup community? What makes diversity such a great asset for business? How can entrepreneurs be deliberate about diversity?

As a Disabled, Queer, Mexican-American entrepreneur, I am very comfortable with diversity. I have to use it as a strength to survive in my day-to-day life. I use it as a competitive advantage to thrive in my day-to-day business.

My Cerebral Palsy has caused me to fall literally thousands of times. And thousands of times, I’ve gotten up from the floor.

How is this relevant to business? I never give up! Instinctively, I am resilient. I see and manage business failures as opportunities to grow and develop. I see them as opportunities to get back up stronger.

Similarly, my Adjustment Disorder, an invisible disability, makes me a better entrepreneur. My Adjustment Disorder causes me to feel uncomfortable with change and with unexpected situations. As a way to manage this disability, I have learned to instinctively think and operate in systematic ways — when I wake up, what I eat, when I call my mom, when I see my friends, how I travel, when I travel — most of my daily activities are set up in systems. As an entrepreneur, this natural systematic way of thinking is amazing! It allows me to identify systems in everything we do as a business: our productivity levels as a startup, our organizational culture, the relationship with our customers — I instinctively think about all business aspects as processes and systems, which makes it easier to analyze and determine what’s working and what needs improvement at all levels of the organization.

My sexuality and race have also made me a better business leader. They have made me more confident and have given me greater empathy for my team members and for the people who we serve.

The diversity within my life and within my background has given me power. So, how can a non-disabled, straight, white American maximize the power of diversity?

Don’t start with money!

Money is a barrier for many minorities and communities. Instead of spending money, find creative ways to barter and partner with existing organizations and communities that can benefit from what you have to offer, while at the same time helping you accomplish what you need. This will not only save you money, it will also allow you to seek out and find new business opportunities.

Measure diversity.

Just like you measure sales, profits, and overall performance, measure diversity. Not just diversity of race and gender, but also of disabilities, age, socioeconomic background, cultures, etc… Being intentional about improving overall diversity will make your business better. Need help with this? Ping me.

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations.

Ride the bus instead of driving. Try to use the accessible entrance on a building instead of the steps. Go to a Meetup of people who don’t look like you. Sit and talk next to a stranger in the park. Talk to a homeless person and hear their stories. It will make you better which, in turn, will make your business better.

Looking at diversity as an asset for business is smart! For many diverse entrepreneurs like me, though, viewing diversity as an opportunity is not optional. It’s rather an obligation to survive. Celebrate and be intentional about diversity because it’s the right thing to do. Celebrate and invest in diversity because it could be the greatest asset for your business.

Man in a tank top that reads

Diego Mariscal

CEO and Founder, 2Gether-International

Founder and CEO of 2Gether-International.org. Working to promote disability rights and entrepreneurship.   Photo by David Ehrlich