Startup (Cult)ure

By Kailey Raymond, Customer Success Manager

I live in a madhouse. Eight roommates: four men, four women, and more than likely a friend on the couch at any given time. There are always dirty dishes in the sink, laundry in the washer, and pizza boxes in the fridge. We all live such varied schedules that I could go weeks without seeing a single person. Like I said, completely crazy. And to add to the chaos, we all live and breathe the startup life; working at Boston-based startups as engineers, content directors, designers, and sales people. We could probably host our own hackathon, brew our own brand of beer, and have our own Twitter handle (yes, the ideas have been mentioned more than once). Although hectic at times, my house does have its redeeming qualities. What, you may ask, is redeeming about living in a rat-shack in Allston? The answer: Diversity. I have never lived in a more diverse atmosphere in my life and I learn through understanding new perspectives everyday: about growing up in a foreign country, or having an enormous family with dozens of aunts and uncles, and understanding the nuances of sexuality. 

Eight job titles, seven universities attended, six countries lived in, five friendly mice (I did say Allston, after all), four different races, three startup founders, two sexual orientations, and one thing pulling us all together- Boston startups. 

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Now, you might think that I prefaced this post, pulling examples from my own life to draw conclusions about startup culture as a whole. From my story, you would extrapolate that startups are extremely diverse environments- after all, doesn’t innovation stem from the mixture of diverse perspectives? I truly believe that it does, however, the real reason why I highlighted my house as an example was because I believe that it is a complete anomaly juxtaposed against typical startup culture. I live in the Island of Misfit Toys in the land of startups, full of cultural, sexual, economic, and racial diversity. The truth is, since my entrance into the Boston startup culture in June, I have found there to be a profound lack of diversity. The typical profile of the startup-er that I have encountered is a 25-35 year old white, straight, middle to upper class male. Think about it for a second. I never had taken the time to reflect before a few weeks ago thanks to a question posed by one of our students. 

The student asked, “Are there any people coming in to teach that represent different cultures or races? How about different sexualities? When will we begin to learn those perspectives?” After thinking about it for a solid five minutes, my collective team struggled to come up with a list of more than five names. Thinking about this, it began to bother me - surely there were dozens of examples of people from diverse backgrounds that work within tech startups in Boston.

Sure, every culture has its own problems. And I don’t think about it everyday, but when I do, I can’t help but think how easy it is to perpetuate a problem rather than find a solution. As they stand currently, I believe that startups teeter closer to the edge of cult rather than culture. I think that this may go back to how we find our startup jobs. What’s your startup story? How did you find your startup job? Pulling from my own circle, here’s a typical storyline: “My brother’s roommate from college founded this company and the rest is history” or “The smartest people I know are my friends, so we gave it a shot!” Despite the age old saying that “opposites attract”, a glance at startup (cult)ure bears testament to the contrary, that in fact, “birds of a feather” is more true representation of diversity within startups. So, this leads me to ask the question- even though startups are new, are they still an old boy’s club?

To join the discourse on diversity, tweet at @StartupInst using #startupdiversity as a hashtag. We’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and startup stories.