Small Business Tips for Addressing Diversity & Inclusion

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Small business tips for addressing diversity and inclusion
Guest Author: Anne Phibbs, PhD, is the president and founder of Strategic Diversity Initiatives, a small business located in Minneapolis and member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our businesses can feel overwhelming. As small business owners, we often wear multiple hats, and may not have someone on staff whose job it is to address these issues. We may not even have an HR professional on staff. And, as an owner, we may not feel we have the expertise to address DEI issues.

So, it can be tempting to wait to address things until a DEI issue “arises” in the business – maybe it’s a customer complaint or conflict between two staff members. While waiting is tempting, it’s not the right approach. Addressing DEI is an integral part of any small business plan. Just like we need a strategic plan that addresses core issues like staffing, marketing and technology, we also need to a plan for moving our DEI goals forward. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

You don’t need to be steeped in DEI work to know that our society is changing rapidly. We are experiencing significant demographic shifts and discussions around race and ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ issues, religion and sexism in the workplace, to name a few. And expectations are changing as well. In my work with Strategic Diversity Initiatives, I often ask potential clients why they are looking to address DEI in their businesses. It’s not uncommon for me to hear the following responses, “Our customers are asking about it,” “Our new hires are asking if we have a diversity plan,” “the RFPs we’re submitting are asking about our diversity numbers.”

I also often hear many leaders share, “We know we need to do this. And we want to do this. But we don’t even know where to start.” I always appreciate their honesty, and share that it’s important that they know they need to address DEI issues – and very important that they want to do this work. Then I share two important takeaways: This is long-term work and they don’t have to do everything at once.

Just as a business has to think strategically about its staff, marketing and technology, so, too, with a business’s DEI efforts. Too often a business will bring in a consultant or trainer just to deal with the “DEI issue,” but doesn’t take the time and effort to develop a long-term, sustainable plan. It’s better to start out slowly and deliberately, with a long-term plan for the changes you want to make, than to start out quick from the gate, only to run out of money and staff energy for your DEI efforts. Below are some suggestions for ways small businesses can begin to build sustainable DEI efforts.

  • Review your policies and procedures using a DEI lens (For example, do you have policies about religious holidays; does your policy support maternity vs. parental leave; do all your forms offer only “male” and “female” as options for a question about sex/gender – and do you even need that question?).

  • Review your hiring and promotion practices; is a “demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion” included in your job descriptions and performance reviews? How do you address the role of implicit bias in your hiring and decision-making? Check out MN Job Match to help take the bias out of your hiring practices.

  • How do you develop and communicate your commitment to creating a welcoming, diverse and inclusive business? Do you offer on-going staff training? Do you have a DEI statement – is it on your website? Do you offer staff an opportunity to participate in a DEI Committee?

  • Do you use suppliers that reflect your commitment to DEI; for example, suppliers that are minority-owned, women-owned, disability-owned, LGBTQ-owned, veteran-owned? Do you know how to find suppliers with these certifications?

  • What is your relationship with the local community? Do people know who you are? Do they know you have a commitment to being a “good neighbor” and to being inclusive?

Anne Phibbs, PhD, is president of Strategic Diversity Initiatives, and can be reached at anne.phibbs@strategicdi.com or strategicdi.com. Anne will also be a speaker at the next Women in Business series – click here to register and hear more from Anne!