The continuing national and international conversations on race and social justice has energized many businesses to work to increase diversity in their organization. But for small businesses that lack a diverse leadership or workforce, it may be difficult to know where to start.
In this guide, diversity experts share their tips to help small businesses understand how to approach diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), create a welcoming company culture, and attract and retain diverse talent.
1. See inclusion as a moral imperative.
A good starting point, says Ulysses J. Smith, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Blend, is to understand where DEI initiatives fit into your business. The short answer: everywhere.
Smith says: "There's a difference between organizations that focus on DEI as a moral imperative and those including it as a business imperative. There's a difference between organizations that espouse inclusion as a value, and those who demonstrate it in their behaviors. It shows in the culture and who you hire whether or not you uphold these principles, and it ultimately shows in the products or services that you put to market."
Similarly, your stance on diversity should be public if you're to appeal to a diverse talent pool, comments Deborrah Ashley, Founder and CEO of The LinkedIn Black Belt: "State your policies on diversity and inclusion on your website and create a culture of leaders who support it, and audit your marketing material to ensure it's inclusive."
2. Assess company culture.
Assessing where you are is a key step in moving forward, adds Ashley. To create a culture that is diverse and welcoming, she suggests you start with these questions: "How diverse is leadership? What conversations are taking place currently around diversity? What strategy do you have in place that creates a sense of inclusion for your audience?" The answers to these will reveal where the gaps that you should focus on addressing are.
3. Identify racism in internal processes.
Michelle Silverthorn, diversity expert and CEO of Inclusion Nation, says it's important to understand how internal systems and processes can allow racism to exist.
"Change the systems that allow for racism. Don't know what they are? Check your hiring to see which Black candidates never made it to the next round. Check your promotion rates to see how many Black people were denied. Check your executive recruiting to see how many Black people were considered. Check your bonuses to see how much Black people received."
A blind resume process involves reviewing the resumes of potential employees without their names or identifying information. It helps reduce the bias in the hiring process and ensures you are only looking at core competency and experience when reviewing a resume.
—Monique Arrington, president, Arrington Case by Case
Silverthorn adds that because racism itself a structure, change has to be structural. That means it’s important to put structures and accountability measures in place for diversity goals "so that even when the people who are at the company now fighting for this change leave, or are no longer listened to, the structures and the accountability stay in place," she says.
4. Use blind recruiting.
One of the pitfalls for small businesses can be implicit bias in the recruitment process. To challenge this bias, consider using blind recruiting. According to Monique Arrington, president of recruitment firm Arrington Case by Case, "In an ideal world, candidates would get hired based strictly on their work experience and the skills they bring to the table. We all know that this is not our reality. Often recruiters and hiring managers hire candidates based on other factors unrelated to role fit."
Arrington adds: "A blind resume process involves reviewing the resumes of potential employees without their names or identifying information. It helps reduce the bias in the hiring process and ensures you are only looking at core competency and experience when reviewing a resume."
Information to remove includes demographic information, as well as details about colleges, interests and hobbies. Recruiters should also avoid checking out candidates' social media, where some of that information may be available.
It's also useful to be open to the idea of non-traditional candidates, instead of assuming that the only good hires have followed a 4-year degree, career ladder path.
5. Diversify your networks.
Ashley says that LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for small businesses looking to diversify both their leadership and their staff, because it allows you to broaden the networks you interact with.
If you want to diversify your networks, she advises: "Target people who went to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) or are in groups that may indicate a unique background or interest. This should be part of a fully inclusive strategy and not a standalone."
Other useful strategies Ashley recommends include:
- Getting employees to serve as brand advocates, as their content will be more trusted than branded content.
- Creating and sharing-thought leadership content related to the topics that matter to a diverse talent base to build trust.
- Partnering with organizations and speaking on virtual panels with an audience of diverse leaders.
Finally, Smith says small businesses must recognize that DEI is a core business function that goes beyond talent acquisition: "Now is the time to have critical conversations focused on how DEI is a central tenet of your talent, product, sales and marketing functions, and in the accountability mechanisms throughout the organization. Having these conversations early ensures that the culture of the company is built on a solid foundation of DEI and reflected in the mission."
Photo: Getty Images