Having an inclusive workplace is more than hiring diverse staff members. To promote inclusivity, small business owners can get involved with business development in their surrounding communities and improve their overall communication strategies.
Entrepreneurs from marginalized backgrounds — including but not limited to race, socioeconomic class and gender — face more difficulties even when starting their own business, before they can afford to hire employees. This is especially true in less diverse areas of the country like the Midwest.
Supporting business-oriented community organizations
Fortunately, there are organizations, like Omaha Small Business Network (OSBN), dedicated to underserved populations through business development.
In an interview with Business News Daily, Julia Parker, the executive director, explained how OSBN serves local small business owners, entrepreneurs and nonprofits by providing practical tools for success.
Her organization recognizes the importance of funding historically marginalized entrepreneurs in areas with a strong potential for business growth. OSBN provides commercial office space in the heart of north Omaha, technical support, microloans up to $50,000, and other business assistance services.
Small business owners outside of underserved communities can get involved by participating in events and donating to organizations like OSBN. [See Related Story: Got Diversity? Time to Change Your Perspective]
Changing the conversation in the workplace
As a small business owner, you can make a difference by starting small in your own office. Consider educating your employees on inclusive communication.
Using her background in marketing and advertising, Omaha entrepreneur and activist Morgann Freeman runs an inclusive communications consulting business to improve how companies interact with their employees and clients.
"I focus on changing the way we approach how we talk to and interact with, verbally and nonverbally, with one another in personal, organizational and global contexts," Freeman said.
For instance, Fortune reports microaggressions — subtle and unintentional insults, such as asking an American person of color where they're "really" from — can diminish the happiness of your human capital and drive away talent. Despite employees' intentions, these comments can create a tense and exclusive environment not welcoming to those from marginalized backgrounds.
To reduce microaggressions in your business, you can invest in company education to discuss diversity in a productive atmosphere. Businesses like Freeman's offer diversity and inclusion workshops and trainings, which help a company understand diversity through daily interactions. Rather than providing textbook definitions to complicated concepts, she helps business leaders understand better listening and speaking techniques.
Inclusive communication relates back to customer service, Freeman said, so businesses should also consider how they interact with audiences over social media. How will your business respond to comments on Facebook or mentions on Twitter?
Additionally, Forbes recommends some calls-to-action for inclusive communication strategies. For instance, employees should acknowledge their unconscious biases, refrain from speaking to genuinely listen, and remove preconceived notions. By understanding cultural biases and altering their language, employees can better understand and communicate with those from different backgrounds, especially for the benefit of the company and its services.
"Stripping away... the 'us' versus 'them' mentality allows your team to really build an empathetic understanding of diverse identities," Freeman said on her website.
If you can improve your communications, your business has the potential to increase and expand audiences, while maintaining customer satisfaction from existing clients. These techniques can also improve employee happiness, boost office morale and improve the quality of staff relationships.
"True progress happens by changing the way you talk about things," Freeman added. "You cannot be an inclusive organization when you use exclusionary language."