2024 Startups 100 | Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) shortlist and award winner

Being a DEI role model is all about putting people ahead of profit. Meet the winner of the 2024 Startups 100 DEI award - and learn more about our shortlist.

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We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within an organisation is a bit like trying to make sense of an optical illusion. What it looks like differs depending on the unique make-up of your workforce, and the perspective you bring as leader.

While we might talk about the UK ‘workforce’ as a collective, we cannot forget that this 30-million-strong group presents a kaleidoscope of backgrounds and experiences, requiring constant adaptation and flexibility. That’s why agile and enterprising startups are leading the charge to embrace emerging DEI frontiers like neurodiversity.

We’re highlighting those who are doing it best with our specialist DEI award, granted as part of this year's Startups 100 index. In collaboration with our expert guest judge Danielle Bowman, the team carefully evaluated the DEI policies of each featured business.

Our top five shortlisted companies are setting the standard for DEI excellence, ensuring every individual they employ and encounter feels valued, respected, and empowered. Find out more about these pioneering startups, and what they mean for the future of people management.

Danielle Bowman
Introducing Startups 100 guest judge, Danielle Bowman!

Danielle is cofounder at Found By Few, a specialist recruitment agency founded on the belief that recruiters should promote diverse hiring strategies and inclusive company cultures. She also runs a careers podcast called ‘How To Get My Job’, where leaders are quizzed on how their careers started, evolved, and what advice they have for those coming after them.

WINNER – WeWALK

2024 Startups 100 | Winner of the DEI award

For the business that demonstrates a committed diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative and how it has been embedded in the company.

Learn more about WeWALK

Juggling a cane, smartphone, and suitcase at the airport, WeWALK co-founder Kursat Ceylan – who was born blind – tripped and fell over a pole. He realised that technology had advanced so much, yet the traditional white cane for the visually impaired was unchanged.

That epiphany sparked the birth of WEWALK. Its product, launched in 2019, is a tech-enabled cane that pairs with a smartphone app to make navigation easier, safer, and more accessible for the visually impaired.

WEWALK's smart cane goes beyond the limitations of a traditional white cane, detecting above-ground obstacles that a typical cane misses. It provides voice navigation prompts, keeps users updated on bus and train timings, and even has an exploration mode that announces nearby points of interest like restaurants.

Named Amazon's Startup of the Year and a TIME Best Invention, WeWALK exemplifies the Tech for Good ethos. Putting the ‘E’ in DEI, it has also launched a fundraising campaign to provide canes to those who cannot afford advanced hardware.

What did Danielle Bowman have to say? 

“WeWALK’s mission to develop technologies for the full and equal participation of more than 250 million visually impaired people worldwide in social life is incredible,” Bowman enthuses.

“It has not only shown a commitment to DEI in its product but also in building a team and company that is inclusive of both sighted and blind members, and impressive testimonials showing a clear impact on people’s quality of life. An admirable mission.”

SHORTLISTED – Frobelles

Frobelles all began with a simple question from a six-year-old Alyssa, who couldn't find a single game character with Afro hair like hers. Sparked by this realisation, she and her Mum set out to create a gaming experience that celebrated the beauty and diversity of Afro hair.

Frobelles is a celebration of Afro hair and a platform for kids to express their unique identities. Coco, Kelli, and Krista, the game's virtual fashionistas, sport stunning Afro hairstyles that can be styled in a variety of ways, from puffy twists to intricate braids.

But at 100,000 downloads, Frobelles isn’t just a game; it's a thriving community where empowerment and sisterhood reign. Now 11 years old, Alyssa (who we also nominated for our Young Entrepreneur award) and her Mum are inspiring kids worldwide.

Bowman picks out Alyssa’s involvement as key to the brand’s DEI aspirations. “Frobelle’s is a great mission in trying to tackle the lack of inclusion in the gaming industry when it comes to Black female representation. In having Alyssa involved, they can create authentic content that is valuable to their target audience,” she assesses.

SHORTLISTED – Postpartum Plan Ltd.

Balancing both parenthood and a demanding career can feel like a high-wire act without a net. In fact, 75% of parents report feeling overwhelmed and stressed when returning to work after childbirth. That's where Postpartum Plan comes in.

Offering a virtual village of support for new parents, Postpartum Plan is the first of its kind to extend its services and resources to all, regardless of birthing status. Whether you're a birthing parent, non-birthing parent, or embarking on the journey of adoption or surrogacy, the startup ensures that everyone's needs are met.

Unlike other employee benefits that often focus on equality, Postpartum Plan prioritises equity. It provides five pillars of postpartum support, tailoring the experience to each parent's unique needs, not the dictates of society.

Bowman evaluates Postpartum Plan as a “really great mission with clear objectives to tackle a problem that many do not talk about or that often gets forgotten.” She applauds the brand for its measures to remain inclusive for all parents.

SHORTLISTED – Propelle

In the UK, women retire with 40% less than their male counterparts. That's not just a statistic; it's a reality that's holding women back from financial independence. Enter Propelle, a mission-driven fintech startup determined to close the gender wealth gap.

Founder Ayesha Ofori, a former Goldman Sachs banker, left the corporate world behind, feeling unfulfilled by the pursuit of wealth for the already wealthy. She knew there was a better way to use her expertise, one that could make a real difference in the lives of women.

Born out of this conviction, Propelle is revolutionising the investment landscape, breaking down barriers that have traditionally kept women from gaining full financial control. In one year, it has developed a thriving beta platform with 6,000+ sign ups, helping women employees take charge of their finances at major organisations like Google and GiffGaff.

Bowman commends Propelle’s “admirable mission in helping to close the gender pay and wealth gap.” She especially praises the firm’s supporting DEI materials, such as its company principles, for demonstrating “that the product is effective and aligns with their DEI values.”

SHORTLISTED – UNDO Carbon

Green giant UNDO Carbon uses revolutionary enhanced rock weathering technology to dramatically accelerate the process of carbon capture. But UNDO is not just about saving the planet. It is also about empowering people.

Recruitment is a key area of focus for UNDO’s DEI efforts. It employs an internal tool to track hiring and train managers on unconscious biases, and also works with recruiters who specialise in finding diverse candidates – one reason it now has 40% women in leadership positions against a tech average of 28%.

Working in communities across the mining and farming industries, UNDO puts relationships first. Local farmers often operate on thin margins, so UNDO provides them with free, nutrient-rich silicate rock to spread on the land. It also hires locally, and is committed to giving rural farming communities a say in how its projects are designed and implemented.

“The mission is great in trying to reduce CO2 and make our planet habitable,” Bowman praises. “Commitment to helping the local communities they work with suggests UNDO is trying to create a more equitable future for workers. Its gender diversity is also impressive.”

SHORTLISTED – Zero Gravity

Growing up in West Yorkshire in a single-parent family, Joe Seddon experienced firsthand the challenges faced by individuals from low-opportunity backgrounds. Inspired, he set out to start Zero Gravity, a tech startup that's rewriting the rules of social mobility.

Zero Gravity is a launchpad for top-performing students in disadvantaged areas, providing mentoring, masterclasses, and scholarships to propel them into top universities and careers. Via strategic partnerships with corporations like HSBC, it has harnessed technology to pair students with graduate mentors, skyrocketing their chances of securing work placements.

Having already partnered with over 500 state schools, Zero Gravity captures a significant 20% market share. In just three years, it is already leading the movement to prove that with the right support, anyone can achieve greatness.

“Zero Gravity is tackling a systemic problem that needs addressing,” Bowman assesses. “It’s a brilliant mission that affects a wide group of people from all walks of life.” Her conclusion? “Zero Gravity is a business with a far-reaching impact and data to back it up.”

What does the future of DEI look like in 2024?

2023 has been a difficult year for businesses. Crisis has piled onto crisis, as energy challenges triggered inflation which pushed up the cost of living to untenable rates for consumers and business owners alike.

This situation is forcing businesses to make tough decisions, and some are deprioritising DEI initiatives as a result – threatening to undo years of progress. According to Monster’s January 2023 future of work report, 11% of employers surveyed said that DEI programs “are among the first to go when they are forced to cut costs.”

This shortsighted approach is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. As businesses gear up for growth and recovery in 2024, backing out of DEI commitments is a surefire way to hinder success and hamper a company's ability to attract top talent, an essential ingredient for scaling up.

When companies make a genuine effort to create a diverse and inclusive recruitment process, they send a powerful message that they are open to talent from all backgrounds. Doing it right also doesn't require a big cheque. As Bowman explains, all businesses need is a smart approach from HR managers.

“Make sure your commitment to DEI and corporate values are clear and visible across all touchpoints of the business,” Bowman advises. “Whether it’s the product, social media, website, job adverts.”

DEI also has a profound impact on existing employees. When individuals feel valued and respected for their unique perspectives and contributions, they are more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave the company. This translates into lower turnover rates and higher retention of skilled labour.

As we enter 2024, it is imperative for businesses to find ways to embed DEI into their core strategies. This will not only help them weather the storm but also emerge stronger and more resilient.

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are more important than ever,” Bowman stresses. “Not just for customer buy-in but for hiring and retaining staff. You can’t grow without either.”

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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