Danielle Bowman announced as guest judge for Startups 100 Index 2024

Bowman, founder of specialist recruitment agency Found by Few, will judge this year’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award.

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Danielle Bowman, thought leader and co-founder of recruitment agency Found by Few, has been announced as guest judge for next year’s Startups 100 Index.

Joining a panel of expert judges, which includes Cheeky Panda’s Chris Forbes and social entrepreneur Karen Lynch MBE, Bowman will help to identify the winner of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) award from the list of the top 100.

The chosen business must be able to demonstrate a strong commitment to a DEI initiative – whether in their hiring strategy, operational model, or company mission statement – and show how it has been embedded into the company for maximum impact.

Speaking to Startups, Bowman said the decision to come aboard the Startups 100 ship as a guest judge was “an easy yes. It combines the two things that are very dear to my heart – successful startups and inclusive cultures where everyone can thrive.”

Who is Danielle Bowman?

Alongside co-founder and Found by Few CEO Ben Elliott, Bowman launched Found by Few – a recruitment agency specialising in the product and design industry – in 2021.

The partners were brought together by a shared belief that recruitment companies have an important role to play when it comes to championing inclusivity. Bowman says this came as a result of going through a poor hiring experience herself.

“Our personal experiences, good and bad, often motivate us to do better”, says Bowman. “I applied for a job where the hiring company was thoughtful, compassionate and caring. But, these values were diluted almost entirely through my experience with the recruiter.”

As a result of the encounter, Bowman admits she seriously considered stepping back from the role. But, while unsavoury, the experience has ultimately had an optimistic outcome, in fuelling her ambitions to bring about positive change to the product and design industry.

“Part of what drives my commitment is that I never want an individual, or a business, to go through what I did,” she explains.

How does Found by Few work?

The Found by Few team works with companies to establish where they might be missing out on attracting and retaining valuable talent, and how they might embrace a wider range of qualities and perspectives among candidates.

Bowman is aware that designing an inclusive strategy is often a new concept for many startups. It’s this experienced and open-minded approach that Bowman will bring to the Startups 100 judging table later this year, when appraising our DEI shortlist.

“I’ve worked with firms that didn’t have diverse leadership teams but were whole-heartedly self-educating themselves to be better and more inclusive,” she comments. “I’ve also worked with companies who have great policies but the managers had barely read them.

“I’m not sure I have any predetermined red flags. I’m excited to see how these great companies can communicate the impact of their DEI initiatives.”

The importance of DEI when building a top 100 startup

Following decades of non-diverse hiring practices, there was a general push among senior leaders to prioritise diversity and inclusion initiatives in both their workforces and business operations post-COVID.

However, these diversity efforts may now be stalling amid a myriad of business challenges triggered by the cost of living crisis.

High-profile employers like Warner Bros and Disney have fired their Chief Diversity Officer this year, as DEI positions were disproportionately hit by layoffs across industries. In fact, data firm Revelio Labs reports that one in three DEI professionals lost their roles last year.

Cutting down on staffing costs is one tactic to preserve cash flow. But, as Bowman says, focusing downsizing efforts on diversity and inclusion will likely hamper business growth, not encourage it.

The opportunity of leveraging true DEI

“When people think about DEI, it’s often looked at as a ‘tick-box’ exercise – even more so in an economic downturn,” says Bowman. “However, there is plenty of evidence that the most successful teams and businesses are also front runners when it comes to DEI.

“Certainly, in the product and design field, if you want to build a truly successful digital app that is used by everyone then you are going to have a way better chance of doing that if you’re considering everyone – not just one part of society”, she states.

As an example of DEI done well, Bowman points to Startups-100 alumni, Hertility Health, a women’s health company that provides at-home hormone and fertility testing.

“I like what Hertility are doing and how they are highlighting the importance of reproductive health on staff and companies,” she applauds. “There is so much more we could all be doing to support people going through menopause or endometriosis.”

Bowman is keen to promote the benefits and opportunities of having a DEI strategy, but she stops short of singing praises for adopters just yet.

After all, she attests, success is not just about giving a nod in the direction of inclusivity. For genuine, long-term impact, a conscious effort must be made to sew DEI into the very fabric of the business.

“Business success will only happen if those teams feel truly valued and empowered to speak up and contribute, as opposed to just being there to make up the numbers,” she cautions.

Could you be the next Startups 100 DEI champion?

As co-founder of Found by Few, Bowman works with companies every day to help them work out a clear and authentic method when it comes to communicating company values like DEI. From her experience, what does she want to see from our entries?

For almost every other category in this year’s Startups 100, our guest judges have requested one thing: hard and fast data. Not Bowman. She says she’d like firms to offer more than just statistics when it comes to the nuanced subject of inclusion.

“Truly impactful DEI is about more than just numbers,” she maintains. “Data comes in many forms and while quantitative data is great it should never be put above stories, narratives and everything else that constitutes qualitative data.”

Another green flag for Bowman is a clearly communicated DEI policy that every member of the business is aware of and up-to-date on – such as practices addressing age discrimination, neuroinclusion, or race and gender issues in the workplace.

“More often than not, effective and successful DEI strategies are built on the foundation of clear and available policies that colleagues can refer to, adhere to, and be held accountable to,” she says.

It’s not just the employees who must show evidence of DEI commitment. Commendation as a company that’s leading the charge in DEI, Bowman stipulates, can only be achieved with evidence of a strong and effective leadership style.

“DEI has to be driven by senior leadership,” she stresses. “Far too often DEI responsibilities are placed on the shoulders of minority staff members.”

These three components, Bowman argues, are necessary to build an organisational culture that champions inclusivity. This will provide an important foundation for developing a future-proof business model in the tumultuous years ahead.

“I truly believe that you can’t have a successful startup without inclusion,” she divulges. “I’m proud to be associated with an award that encourages businesses to do and be better.”

Are you a new business founder who feels passionately about inclusion? Apply to the Startups 100 for a chance to be named DEI award winner for 2024.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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