How Small Businesses Can Benefit From Diversity and Inclusion

D&I planning is important for attracting the right talent, fostering a sense of belonging, solving problems more creatively, and serving greater populations.

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Insights from an Inclusion & Diversity Strategist on how to integrate D&I practices into your small business

The topic of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is nothing new to most large businesses in 2020. While there have been many well researched advantages to employing a diverse workforce and creating a culture of inclusion, smaller businesses may not always have the resources to keep this practice top of the mind.

If you’re a small business interested in learning how to integrate D&I practices into your company DNA, we interviewed Ashley Fernandez, Career Coach at Ashley Marie Coaching and Inclusion & Diversity Strategist. She shared her insights on how small businesses can practice and benefit from diversity planning and efforts.

D&I: being intentional

When it comes to planning for D&I, Fernandez explains the importance of being intentional with your objectives. If you’re planning out your quarterly objectives and key results, be sure to include some kind of initiatives that focus on increasing various aspects of diversity (increasing internal promotion rate of diverse groups, for example).

She also explains that you must take actionable steps that help build belonging. This should not be a stand alone event; rather, it should be an ongoing strategy that’s built year over year.

According to Gartner research, having a set of benefits and initiatives that recognize the individual needs of your employees, such as emotional wellness programs, can help drive the feeling of belonging and inclusion by 38%.

You must take actionable steps that help build belonging. This should not be a stand alone event; rather, it should be an ongoing strategy that’s built year over year.

Recognize what’s important for your business

If you’re an HR team of 1 person, you might not have the capacity to launch large scale initiatives. However, you can make a big impact by identifying what you value as a business and embedding that into every level and process of the company.

For example, if you value gender diversity, you may only choose to partner with companies or source vendors that have women on their executive team. You might also choose to create a code of conduct to ensure that how you interact with your colleagues feels safe for everyone.

Fernandez said that “being conscious of the language you use, the clients you have, or the suppliers you source will help you drive culture in the right direction.”

Making D&I part of everyone’s job

Oftentimes, D&I gets assigned as an extra project for someone already juggling many hats. Unfortunately, this presents challenges when trying to make any real progress. D&I needs to be present in everyone’s job and requires buy-in at all levels. This means that D&I should be equally as important for individual contributors, managers, and executives alike.  SBOs should encourage everyone to think about their contributions to the larger effort.

Think back to the time where you were the only woman, parent, or person of color in the room. Fernandez recommended creating a culture where nobody has that feeling of being “the only.”

Fernandez said that a good way to get the idea of belonging onto people’s radar is to have them think of a time when they were “the only” in the room. For example, think back to the time where you were the only woman, parent, or person of color in the room. Fernandez recommended creating a culture where nobody has that feeling of being “the only.”

What are some tactical first steps?

When it comes to tactical first steps, Fernandez recommended giving each other some grace and understanding that there will be a learning curve when getting started in your D&I planning.

Teaching your employees about bias (both conscious and unconscious) is another way to help take action towards creating a more inclusive workplace. Whether it’s a formal workshop, bookclub, e-learning, or speaker series, educating people will foster dialogue and conversations on how to change.

Another area to look closely at is how your company runs meetings. Fernandez recommended diving deeper into meeting structure and creating standards to ensure everyone has an opportunity to share their opinions. Also, it’s important to make sure that the language used in meetings sets a positive tone for your employees.

The bottom line

One of the most important things to remember is that this kind of work can’t just be part of HR’s job. Fernandez said that D&I goes beyond a checklist or an extracurricular. Rather, it’s about creating a culture that fosters a sense of belonging and attracts the right talent.

Attracting diverse opinions and voices to your organization will help you make better decisions and solve problems more creatively. It also allows for different perspectives and experiences which can help you create unique products that serve greater populations.

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