Elizabeth Ruzzo, PhD. Founder and CEO of adyn
Author, CEO and Founder of adyn
Elizabeth Ruzzo, PhD

One of my first priorities as a founder was creating an inclusive, equitable, values-driven team. I was lucky to receive lots of advice on how to legally structure my business contracts, present my vision, learn what customers want, etc. but virtually zero advice on how to build the kind of team I knew I needed. In order to advance my mission, compete for talent, succeed in the market, and enjoy my work, I needed an equitable team aligned around a core set of values. My colleagues struggled to point to examples of companies where this work had been a focus rather than an afterthought.

I set out to look at examples of organizations operating with the intention of advancing equity. I wanted to understand what components needed to be considered while building a cohesive, ambitious, and values driven team. As an avid researcher, I found a number of resources to inform this effort. I share a few here in hope they validate your own thoughtful approach to building an equitable team culture.

I recommend that you take the time to read mission and values statements from leaders and organizations you do and don’t admire. Spend time drafting yours. They will shape decisions large and small within your organization and should be used as the framework for prioritization and performance review practices. Refer to them regularly and purposefully.

How to build an equitable values-driven team: A reading list

  1. First, remind yourself it is a great responsibility to provide work. To be a founder requires an extraordinary focus on your mission. Inviting people to join you in realizing your vision is a tremendous honor. Favorable work conditions are a human right and, coincidentally, great for your business. Your employees will be spending a significant portion of their life on your team. Care for them as equals.

    READ: Articles 23 and 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  2. Understand the problem. Absorb the frameworks, tools, and practices available to advance equity and debias operating systems today.

    READ: Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Workplace and How You Can Help them Stay by Freada Kapor Klein

    READ: Recommendations by Project Include

  3. Advance equity through design. Bias and inequity are perpetuated by systems which can be redesigned. Consider the user. Seek simplicity. Test theories. Design practices can be applied to things as small as a business card, as large as an organization, or as complex as human behavior. Empathy + Structured Iteration = Innovation.

    READ: What Works: Gender Equality By Design by Iris Bohnet

    READ: Design Thinking Bootleg by The Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school)

  4. Be intentional about fostering individual growth. Make it safe to tell the truth. Solicit feedback. Learn from mistakes. Model this behavior. Practice and attain excellence.

    READ: An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey

    READ: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson

  5. Measure all progress. Measure who you’re hiring, how they’re being compensated, who is getting promoted, which ideas receive the most resources, and who receives recognition. Feminism = Equality and Data = Power. It is essential to consider who is measuring what, when, and why. Additionally, who or which systems are rewarded with the power of recorded data.

    READ: Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein

  6. When in (self-) doubt, look to a role model. Candid advice about bravery, failure, mentorship, money, and ambitious plans laid out in spreadsheets … yes please. Redefining “strong” leadership to recognize the success of traits traditionally associated with women … sounds urgent to me!

    READ: Lead From The Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams

    READ: Strong Female Lead: Lessons from Women in Power by Arwa Mahdawi

I frequently hear stories from entrepreneurs reflecting on the earliest stage of building their companies. Their primary regret is not being intentional enough about identifying and articulating values early and ensuring those values are embedded in all areas of the company. While the process can be arduous, requiring a lot of self-reflection, and will be the most tempting thing to drop from your ever-growing to-do list—the payoff is worth it. Seeing early employees (and beyond) live the values you sweated over, and seeing those values come to life in hiring practices, product experience, and customer service, demonstrates the far-reaching impact of doing the work early and with intention.


Like what you’re reading? Get the latest straight to your inbox 💌

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.