The demonstrations happening across the country and around the world are personal to me. As an African-American woman, I see the current national conversation on racism and equality as long overdue. Throughout my life, I’ve encountered overt racism and have been impacted by implicit biases that are rampant in our country.
And I’m not alone.
From analysis published in Harvard Business Review in 2019, it’s clear that “working African Americans — from those laboring in factories and on shop floors to those setting C-suite strategy — still face obstacles to advancement” in the workplace. But the future can be better. Much better. Better for us as individuals and for businesses, too.
Change happens when we all accept responsibility for making things better. As a business owner, I have taken that responsibility seriously. My branding agency, Tote + Pears, for example, focuses on providing our clients with important insights into overlooked and often unseen audiences, such as the Black community. Plus, by hiring and supporting a diverse staff, I am able to amplify voices that other businesses need to hear.
So, what can small businesses do to help foster equality? Put your energy into action by considering these three sustainable practices that can make a difference.
Evaluate your employer branding.
Recruiting and retaining diverse talent often requires focus and intention. To be successful in these efforts, it’s important for businesses to develop an effective strategy for attracting the people they want to see in their workforce.
Employer branding is key here. Many businesses seek the advice of branding experts to help them ask and answer the important questions around inclusive hiring. For instance, is your company perceived as an inclusive workplace? Evaluating and updating your brand identity as an employer—your website, social media channels, messaging and positioning—can help ensure you’re not discouraging diverse candidates from applying.
Examine your hiring practices.
Business owners also may need to examine their hiring practices.
Adopting a no-tolerance policy for racism as well as an open-door policy for addressing incidents when they occur tells employees that these issues are taken seriously.
According to Harvard Business Review, “many organizations rely heavily on social networks and personal connections in order to fill available positions. But by leaning too heavily on informal links, organizations are taking an approach that has overwhelmingly been known to exclude blacks.”
By restructuring the recruiting process, companies can adopt more inclusive hiring practices, while eliminating unintended biases that may be embedded, such as resume screening for ethnicity and cultural background.
Companies can also be more intentional with their outreach and talent sourcing methods. There are plenty of qualified candidates for businesses to diversify their teams; they just need to put the effort into finding them.
Rather than relying on the same channels and platforms, shift your efforts to tapping into new pools of diverse talent. Posting job openings on minority-focused job boards, recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and reaching out to publications that cater to African-American audiences are all highly effective ways of increasing employer presence among underrepresented candidate groups.
Additionally, investing resources to establish your reputation as a company that actively hires employees from diverse backgrounds will go a long way. Partnering with organizations and conferences that cater to minority groups is a great start.
In its 2019 report, Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration, the Center for Talent Innovation notes that Black professionals don’t ascend to the highest ranks of the C-suite for many reasons:
- a lack of access to leaders in their companies compared to their white peers;
- racial prejudice at work; and
- a lack of diversity and inclusion efforts within companies.
Based on a national online and phone survey of 3,736 respondents, the report also highlights that small companies in particular often offer intangible benefits to black workers such as a sense of belonging, trust and respect.
To help elevate Black workers, small-business owners can invest in the professional development of their African-American employees. They can also ensure that they are promoting Black employees to positions of leadership and preparing them through leadership programs, mentorship and training opportunities.
It is heartening to see business owners who are ready to support Black employees and colleagues on all fronts. Demonstrating awareness of the systemic and societal issues that impact their lives is a powerful way of showing employees that you stand by them.
But advocacy starts at home. Adopting a no-tolerance policy for racism as well as an open-door policy for addressing incidents when they occur tells employees that these issues are taken seriously. Employers can also be proactive by educating employees on unconscious biases, blindspots and micro-aggressions.
The beauty of being a small business is that we are the stronghold of American communities. It behooves us to find local organizations that are working to eradicate racism within our own communities. Support those organizations. Get involved and encourage all of your employees to get involved as well.
The recent events across our country have prompted timely responses from communities everywhere. Americans are speaking out and standing up for one another in ways that many of us have never seen in our lifetimes. If past protests have shown us anything, it is that change is community-driven, and the business community has a role to play. Together we can do a lot to help create equal opportunities for all.
Read more articles about hiring & HR.
Photo: Getty Images, Kai-Saun Anderson