I always joke that if there was an EU award for diversity Dressipi would be in the running. Technology start-ups often get stick for the preponderance in their teams of white males, but that’s never been one of our problems. Perhaps it’s because we’re a business founded by two women, or maybe it’s because as a company we straddle the two worlds of technology and fashion. Nevertheless, out of a team of 12 we have nine nationalities represented and a very rare split of 50:50 male to female.
Why is diversity important in a company? It’s so much more than an exercise in box-ticking. It gives you access to a range of perspectives, priorities and styles that you wouldn’t get from a homogenous team. This was something Sarah and I set out to make the most of from the start. For example, our ‘beauty and the geek’ policy of hiring technologists for their technical skills and professional stylists for their ‘eye’ was an incredibly important part of building our algorithms. By pairing developers and stylists together we could harness their complementary skills. It meant that whenever our algorithm made an unsuitable recommendation, a stylist could explain to the developer why it didn’t work and what had to change. This approach, which turned development into an intelligent conversation between two highly-skilled people, meant we built a better product.
Of course one of the reasons why a lot of highly successful start-ups are so culturally uniform is because people have a natural tendency to attract or hire people similar to themselves. This homogeneity can help the ease of communication and relationships. Fortunately our geek/chic, nine-nationality stew has found no shortage of things to bond over, and top of the list is a shared passion for food. It is an understatement to say everyone at Dresspi is obsessed. Lunch is a daily agenda item and, as is appropriate for a company driven by bots and algorithms, we even have one for suggesting where to go and what to have for lunch.
Thursdays are Burger Thursdays and this means factoring in queuing time into our lunch break for the more popular places. As I type this the team is discussing a project they saw on Kickstarter for a burger venture. Cakes are de rigeur on birthdays and even cupcake flavours reflect our diversity. It’s Dressipi lore that if you get asked ‘do you like food?’ in an interview, the only thing at that point standing between you and a job offer is your next answer.
Food doesn’t just give us a subject we can be sure everyone will have a strong view on – after all, everyone’s got to eat – it’s also a shared experience. This is something we pay particular attention to at Christmas where, instead of going to a restaurant to eat dinner with huge groups of people, we go to one of our houses and cook for one another, everyone contributing a dish. We may all be rather different people, with differing cultural and social backgrounds and a wide range of skills, but eating together reminds us of what we all have in common. And working together towards a common goal is what running a start-up is all about.