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How Small Businesses Can Support Diversity and Inclusion

Lynn Morrison  |  July 2, 2020

Showing support for diverse communities shouldn’t be a one-off. Here’s how you can integrate into your core values.

Showing support for diversity and inclusion should be a no-brainer for business leaders. As a recent survey by SCORE showed, diverse businesses outperform the competition – they’re more innovative, perform better financially, and are able to make faster decisions. These businesses have learned how to turn diversity into their secret weapon.

But with tight budgets and just a handful of employees, what can small business owners do to create a diverse and inclusive culture? 

We reached out to community leaders and business mentors to get their opinions and advice. Read on to find suggestions on where you can start to make meaningful changes in your practices.

Connect with diverse communities and businesses

It behooves any businesses to diversify its customer base. But you cannot successfully meet a different consumer’s needs until you know how best to serve them.

Don’t rely on guesswork. Ken Alozie, Managing Director at Greenwood Capital Advisors and SCORE mentor, says to reach out and connect. “I would encourage small business owners to attend events in their communities with a diverse audience that address issues relevant to those communities (economic, social or otherwise),” he says. 

Alozie also suggests partnering with diverse businesses in order to share audience reach. “This could include mentor-protégé arrangements or something as simple as advertising in a publication with a diverse audience,” he says.

Recruit and mentor diverse team members

If you want to recruit from a broader range of candidates, make sure your “Help Wanted” ad reaches them. Seek networking groups, community newsletters and job boards outside of your usual network. It’s a great way to let a wider group of candidates know that you are specifically interested in hearing from them.

Recognize that you may need specialized training before you begin interviewing candidates. Precious Freeman, Managing Partner at BFC Management, says it is essential to require diversity training and implicit bias training. “Bias creates blind spots. So, hire a trainer to guide you or find free training resources online,” she says. “Without a third party, your biases will be almost impossible to discover.”

The job of embracing diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop after you make the hire. “Once you’ve hired a person of color, set them on the path to leadership by connecting them with a mentor and setting them up for success,” Freeman says. 

Recognize and respect cultural norms (beyond your own)

“Embracing diversity and inclusion within your company isn’t a cost issue as much as it is a cultural issue,” Freeman says. “Shifting your company’s culture is the least expensive and most impactful way to acknowledge and include the diverse groups of people on your staff and within your client base.”

A good place to start the culture shift is with your holiday calendar. “Giving your team members the space to celebrate cultural holidays (and even celebrating with them when appropriate) can go a long way,” Freeman says.

All of this applies as well if your business is in an area with a local indigenous population. Alison Tedford, an indigenous small business owner, suggests: “Post a land acknowledgement in your place of business that recognizes the traditional territory on which you operate. Integrate it in your email signature, and your map section on your website.”

Examine your supply chain and referral process

Inclusion efforts don’t stop at your four walls. Next, take a look at your formal and informal business partners. 

For Alozie, the advice is straightforward: “Consider working with diverse vendors and suppliers …” Also, when appropriate, make introductions to people in your network that can help diverse business owners (such as bankers, attorneys, etc.). “Maybe even form mutually beneficial referral arrangements,” he says.

Do not just pay lip service

Showing support for diverse communities shouldn’t be a one-off. That approach can actually backfire, says LGBTQIA+ leader, Amber Leventry.  

Although Leventry is pleased to see growing support for their community during June’s Pride Month activities, they believe now is the time for businesses to examine how they can continue their support throughout the rest of the year. 

They explained in a recent article: “I need to see more companies, allies, and media outlets make an effort to share our stories, show our families and relationships, and celebrate the many ways we express ourselves all year long.”

One way to show your support is to examine your company’s standard marketing materials. Check your language and your imagery to ensure that you are reflecting the diverse community you welcome and value as customers year-round.

“Pride should not be capitalized on just for the sake of a bottom line; the bottom line is that I deserve to feel safe, seen, and represented every day,” Leventry says. “Fly the flags, announce your pronouns, and market to the LGBTQ community year-round — not just in June.”

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