Diversity is an important consideration for any modern business. Here's how to make sure everyone on your team feels included and respected, regardless of their background.
- Microaggressions are one reason employees feel unhappy and tense at work.
- Employers must provide a safe and harassment-free working environment for all employees.
- Training is the key to truly promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Having an inclusive workplace is more than hiring people from diverse backgrounds. 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 those related to race, socioeconomic class and gender – face more difficulties when starting their own business, before they can even afford to hire employees. This is especially true in less-diverse areas of the United States, like the Midwest.
Supporting business-oriented community organizations
Fortunately, there are organizations, like the Omaha Small Business Network (OSBN), that are dedicated to aiding underserved populations through business development.
In an interview with Business News Daily, Julia Parker, executive director of OSBN, explained how the organization serves local small business owners, entrepreneurs and nonprofits by providing practical tools for success.
She said OSBN 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.
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 reported that 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 of 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 does your business respond to comments on Facebook or mentions on Twitter?
Additionally, the Forbes article recommended some calls to action for inclusive communication strategies. For instance, employees should acknowledge their unconscious biases, refrain from speaking so they can 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 wrote on her website.
If you can improve your communication, 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, Freeman noted.
"True progress happens by changing the way you talk about things," she said. "You cannot be an inclusive organization when you use exclusionary language."
What can you do to promote diversity and inclusion?
The first step in promoting diversity and inclusion is to be aware of your social biases. Learn how unconscious biases affect others, and find out what is creating those biases in the workplace. Encourage employees to analyze and think about their own behaviors and assumptions.
Employees need guidance, training and tools to move past biases. A common response is for people to be defensive and say they are not biased. They automatically begin to think they are being told they are bad people. Proper training can help to remove those negative feelings.
Create employee resource groups to develop potential talent in your company. Leaders can learn from these groups, too. Allow all employees to participate, and make the groups welcoming and open to all. You can also provide incentives to those who participate in these groups.
Diversify your team by hiring people of different backgrounds. This not only brings different perspectives to the organization but also encourages employees to get to know people from different backgrounds.
How do you introduce diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
The best way to introduce inclusion and diversity in your company is to get buy-in at all levels. Employees do not like it when they feel they are being told to do something. Instead, get your employees committed to the idea of being diverse. Change all of your language in the company to include gender-neutral pronouns, such as they and them, if you haven't already. Clearly state your commitment to diversity in all documentation and mission statements about your company.
Whose job is it to promote diversity and inclusion?
It is the role of the employer to promote diversity throughout the entire organization. Employers are responsible for providing their employees with a safe working environment that is free of discrimination and harassment.