Make room for diversity

Indra den Bakker

Founder & CEO of OverStory

Indra den Bakker is CEO and Co-founder of Overstory, an Amsterdam-based startup that helps electric utilities, forestry companies, and NGOs manage the risk of forest fires posed by the proximity of power lines, trees, and vegetation. They’ve developed machine-learning software that leverages satellite technology to identify areas of greatest risk.

What is Overstory’s vision on building winning teams?

We look at different aspects, but one of our most important beliefs is that diversity is needed for more effective problem solving and to keep winning. We’re consciously seeking for people with different views, backgrounds, and skills. We believe that cultural fit is not about being the same, but about having shared values combined with different backgrounds.

Why do you believe diversity is so important in building winning teams?

Diversity is important for problem solving, attracting talent and for building ethical technology. You need a combination of those different views, skills, and backgrounds to solve problems, and that’s what we do as a startup: we solve hard problems, especially in regards to the climate. Our vision is to create a platform of planetary intelligence and by definition, that has to do with all corners of the globe. If we don’t work on a diverse team now, although we’re still relatively small as a company, our team won’t be a good representative of all our customers, and that would make it harder to build a truly global product. That doesn’t only apply to us, it counts for every company. Diversity has a direct connection with the business; if you want to build an inclusive product, you need to have a diverse team.

Indra den Bakker

Founder & CEO of OverStory

Author on Deep Learning

On a mission to enable advancements in technology to solve our climate crisis

If you want to build an inclusive product, you need to have a diverse team.

What is diversity to you? Most often, people look at gender, but it’s much broader than that. Think about race, age distribution (something that is often forgotten at startups), sexual orientation, languages, (socio-economic) backgrounds, people with different experiences, and so on. At Overstory, we’re quite diverse in gender, gender in the management team, and people of color, but there’s always room for improvement.

How do you handle recruitment when diversity is a top priority? It’s crucial to focus on diversity in your recruitment process from the start. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes. For example, if you already have a white male-dominated team, it will be less attractive for someone else to apply. Applicants look at how diverse your team is. Before we start any recruitment process at Overstory, we always discuss what we need, what is missing in our team to achieve our goals, and what kind of person would complement the team. After that, it requires active recruitment. You can’t just post a job, you have to actively search for this complementary person. Someone who’s not only able to fulfill that specific task or job at that moment but truly adds something to the team in the long run to make us a winning team.

Most often, people look at gender, but it’s much broader than that.

What’s your view on a diversity quota? Ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary. For us, diversity comes more naturally, but it can be one of the methods to help restore the imbalance. I would love to see more inspiring female immigrants as founders. Although too often, we refer just to a gender quota. It’s not enough if you just hit that one; you need to look at diversity from a broad perspective.

Diversity can’t go without inclusiveness. How do you create this environment of belonging?

It all starts with having shared values and breathing the same mission to fight climate change. This creates a connection between us as a team. Besides this, we find open communication extremely important. We try to get as much feedback as possible from the team, and we genuinely try to understand what everyone’s experiencing in the workplace and what they need to be part of the team. It’s important to put a lot of time and effort into having those conversations, especially when a company gets bigger. We want to create a safe environment, for example for engineers who sometimes feel less inclined to speak up, so we actively ask for feedback and their opinion.

Applicants look at how diverse your team is.
Diversity helps to solve hard problems.
It all starts with having shared values and breathing the same mission to fight climate change

What else can you do to create that safe environment?

At Overstory, everyone's opinion is valued and we encourage our people to challenge each other, including the founders and the CEO. Being open about these comments, showing respect, and most importantly, doing something with it is crucial. That can be challenging because there is so much to do, but it’s the first important step. We also experience that as a manager, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. I’d rather create an environment where people feel safe and feel that they can challenge each other instead of just being nice to each other.

Where should a company start if they want to pay more attention to diversity?

It starts with self-reflection; do you really have those different perspectives on board, and what do you need to complement your team? Besides, it’s important to reate a common understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion. It's important for everyone in the team too, to develop themselves and to grow the company. This is something that is often forgotten and the discussion remains between the managers. Being vocal that diversity is crucial for a winning team is the first step.

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