You’ve heard it before: Being diversity-inclusive is important. “Diversity inclusion” has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but what does this term mean when it comes to a small business?
Many small businesses hear “diversity inclusion” and assume it’s related to HR — and it is. But it’s much more than that. Aside from hiring a diverse population as part of your workforce, there are internal and external messages that represent your company — and being inclusive in those messages is also highly important.
Diversity inclusion can be broken down into three buckets:
Yes, making a distinct effort to hire diverse individuals is the first step. In small businesses with not a lot of employees, this step can give leaders anxiety: What if it’s too hard to find a candidate that meets all the criteria of job performance and checks the diversity box? The key is to remember that there are various forms of diversity: ethnicity, gender, cultural background and age come to mind.
It is a core value of our firm that diversity of thought is important for creativity. And you can’t have diversity of thought without the diverse backgrounds of your employees. Again, keep in mind that diverse backgrounds are about more than just ethnicity and gender; age is also a factor and cultural background matters, too.
For example, my team is made up of men and women from various countries and diverse upbringings. Some enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle while others have struggled. This gives our team the opportunity to learn about various experiences and connect with many different audiences. My team also spans a diverse set of ages, from 20-somethings to 60-somethings. This age range has proven to both enlighten us with the wisdom of age and the courage of youth, all of which lead to more creative outcomes.
2. Internal Communications
In order for your team to work well together, and foster a culture of diversity in thought, it’s important that you cultivate a clear and distinct internal communication style that is diversity inclusive.
This means you have to foster the ideas of sharing, open discussions and questions. In situations where there are seemingly a lot of differences in those around us, we tend to freeze up and become afraid to share or ask questions for fear of being alienated or misunderstood. That’s why it’s important for leaders to create and maintain a clear internal message of inclusion.
For me, this means celebrating our differences as individuals as much as our backgrounds. I foster an environment in which we ask questions about ourselves and our colleagues regularly, and it’s never in a punitive or negative way. We share our own stories openly, and I give my team the freedom to share and be open and honest about who they are and where they come from. No one is ever stereotyped, and since we are all different, we don’t ever feel excluded. I often share my own story, upbringing, crazy ideas and experiences with my team so that they feel it’s acceptable to do the same.
By releasing the pressure of feeling like you have to “fit in” and be a certain type of person in the workplace, the internal communication becomes one of inclusion, celebration and acceptance, to the point where we all feel like we belong.
3. External Communications
This is the tricky part. If you’re trying to appeal to a diverse audience, you need to have a message that’s capable of doing so without being overly obvious that that is what you are trying to accomplish.
Many small business leaders need help with this. Crafting a diverse message for your various audiences is time-consuming but necessary. However, if you have accomplished steps one and two, you have something going for you.
A simple example of how to more effectively communicate to an external group is to account for your images. Take a few extra moments to review your stock photos, and use ones that are diversity inclusive. This also extends to the images you create. Your avatars and imagery should represent multiple ages, cultures, skin tones, etc. This one simple change can have a big impact on allowing those outside your organization to better relate.
In my agency, we don’t necessarily need to work extra hard to express diversity inclusion — because we are diverse, and it shows plainly. By being authentic as individuals and as a team, our diversity inclusion exists as part of who we are, and that inclusion is the basis of all our external communications.
Business leaders have a difficult time with crafting an external message of inclusion when they are not actively living it. By accepting steps one and two first, your external appearance is easier to maintain.
What it all comes down to is this: If you want to appeal to a diverse audience, you should lead by example. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
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