When I started to write this series for Canadian Business Women I thought I would be providing tips and strategies for leading and growing your business through people. That’s my thing, I had no idea at the time that we would be hit with a perfect storm that is still turning our world upside down. We are still dealing with COVID-19 as we start to open up our businesses and within the last month we have seen the growth of a world-wide movement that has (finally) brought everyone into the conversation about race, injustice and inequality in a way that we have never seen before.
For many of my small business owner clients and colleagues, this has lead them to take a closer look at their own business practices and personal leadership on diversity and inclusion.
Diversity helps all businesses, including small businesses, foster innovation. improve productivity and strengthen the bottom line through a wider and deeper range of ideas, approaches to problem solving, and perspective that comes from diversity in race, gender and other diverse backgrounds.
Diverse consumers also have tremendous purchasing power, according to a diversity study done by Deloitte. Many of those diverse clients and customers will make decisions regarding whether to do business with you based on the extent to which your business and products and services are attuned to their demands and desires.
Many small business owners don’t realize that they are not diverse in their offerings and practices for hiring or choosing suppliers or other business partners. We all have unconscious biases that affect how we see the world. This means that even when we don’t intend to discriminate, we are unconsciously drawn to people “like us” and as a result end up reinforcing the status quo in our business and personal relationships.
We can end up surrounding ourselves with people like us, thereby creating “mini-mes” on our team which doesn’t provide us with the bandwidth for problem solving and growth. While we are great at what we do, we actually need people with a variety of strengths and backgrounds in order to get the results and achieve the success we want for our business.
In order to foster that diversity, we need to consciously think about how we choose employees, suppliers, and business partners and how we engage with them. Rather than rely on our old methods of referral, and hiring within our network, we need to actively put measures in place to ensure diversity in the process and reach out to organizations and individuals who can bring a different perspective to our business.
I remember working with one client to help build out his digital marketing team. He was very clear that he wanted a diverse group of people, that this was critical to the success of the team. I gave him an assessment to complete for each of the roles in order to create an objective range of success for hiring the team. When the results came back, almost every assessment result looked exactly like his. So even though he made a conscious decision to actively create a diverse team, his unconscious bias created role profiles that were just like him, and this was even before he began to recruit or interview candidates. This is how unconscious bias works.
So if we want to embrace diversity and inclusion we need to examine our own practices and decisions. If you have employees, review your existing systems such as hiring, performance evaluations, work assignments, promotions, and compensation systems. These are all potential areas for systemic bias. Look at other policies like holiday observance to see how inclusive they are. If you are hiring, review the role description and requirements and consider using unbiased assessment tools to help screen candidates.
Creating a more diverse and inclusive business requires more than just mission statements on a website. It requires active outreach to communities that are under-represented. Using your usual network to find employees, suppliers and partners will only reinforce the status quo. You can start with a small goal, like 10% of spend for diverse suppliers.
As you consider steps you want to take for diversity and inclusion in your business, do so in a way that genuinely reflects your values, your brand, and the work you do. Diversity starts with you as a leader, so it’s important to be aware that you, like all of us, have biases. We need to make deliberate choices to change how we make decisions about the people we surround ourselves with and how our practices and systems either reinforce the status quo or promote inclusion. Change, even in a small business, doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that will take time, dedication and consistency in your efforts. The payoff in financial and business success will be well worth it!
If you would like to talk with me directly about how to navigate your business through this time, I invite you to please email me to set up a complementary session. Stay well everyone!
Catherine Meyer is CEO and Founder of Catalyst Leadership Solutions. She provides coaching and leadership solutions to a wide range of businesses and industries. Her focus is on helping business owners and entrepreneurs develop their leadership strengths so that they can build their capabilities, enhance growth, and maximize results for their business If you manage a team as part of your business or are in the process of creating a team, Catherine can help you develop your leadership strength to ensure the success of this phase of your growth.