Right now, the topic of diversity is at the center of the news cycle and is the catalyst for big changes taking place in our communities.
It’s a moment of reckoning for all of us. And this moment, and the changes we are making, are not a fad. They are an important — and lasting — trend. The difference between a fad and a trend is that fads come and go — like fashion. Trends don’t come and go. Trends are shifts. In business, it’s imperative that you pay attention to trends and shifts, and make adjustments to remain current — and relevant.
Diversity is good for business. It’s been proven. There are hundreds of studies on the positive effect of diversity and inclusion in business, but the main benefits of having a diverse team are what I call “The Big Six”: six areas that have been studied extensively, and where the findings are clear and conclusive. I’ve provided links to key studies and articles below if you’d like to learn in greater depth about why diversity is good for business, but here are The Big Six:
- Sales and business growth
- New customer/client acquisition
- Higher employee satisfaction
- Better retention of employees
- Better solutions and more innovation
- Greater profit
Based on The Big Six, making sure you have a diverse team and an inclusive approach to business sounds like a no-brainer, right? But most small to mid-sized, independent business owners struggle with how to implement diversity effectively — and cost effectively.
Here are five tips for how to build more diversity into your organization, in no-cost or low-cost ways:
Tip 1: Educate your teams about the importance of diversity.
This is a must. You cannot move forward with any meaningful diversity efforts if your associates don’t understand — or even balk at — why the topic of diversity is on the table in the first place.
Your team will have questions, or they may think that this is just a token effort. Keep the conversation focused on the merits of what diversity brings to business. The fact is that diversity is a competitive advantage in business and if that is understood and embraced by everyone, you’ll be able to initiate changes and programmes that will grow your business.
I find it helpful to focus on diversity of thought — and diversity of background and experience, rather than simply race, ethnicity, gender, age and sexuality. Clearly, those core differences shape our perspectives, but so do other differences: parents think differently than those who aren’t parents. People who live in rural areas are different from those who live in major metro areas. An engineer thinks very differently than a graphic artist does.
The list of ways we can be different from one another is vast. All of our differences shape our perspective, and that is how companies innovate, adapt and thrive, even in challenging times.
Tip 2: Recruit and hire diverse talent.
Many small and mid-sized business owners struggle with this mightily. They think, “It’s so difficult to find good people! Now I need to find someone who speaks another language or represents a different racial or ethnic or gender or generational group? How will I find potentially diverse associates?”
The answer? It’s about outreach — putting the welcome mat out and letting your community know you’re looking for new talent. For mid-level or senior level positions, network with diverse professional organizations in your community and let them know that you’re trying to add new perspectives to your executive team. Ask them for help in finding viable candidates.
For entry-level or junior-level positions, are you willing to hire people with no experience and train them? If so, working with local high schools is a terrific way to find new talent. Talk to teachers or guidance counselors at the schools and let them know that you have jobs for smart, ambitious kids who may not have college in their future. If you approach outreach with a sincere desire to make your company better by adding new talent and diverse perspectives, your message and the job opportunities at your company will be very well received.
Tip 3: Be real about your diversity needs and situation.
Many business owners tell me they’re reluctant to make big efforts in recruiting diverse talent because they are self-conscious about how “not diverse” they are. They ask, “How can we tell a potential candidate that we value diversity when, in fact, we are not very diverse at all?”
It’s a legitimate question, but the answer is simple: be honest and upfront and address it. A law firm I spoke with sought to recruit diverse law associates and new law graduates. But all the partners in the firm were white, and 99% of them were men. They understood that their lack of diversity was a potential barrier to diverse candidates. So they addressed it head-on. The firm’s partners spoke candidly with candidates, telling them, “Look, we are not very diverse and we need to change that. We need to better reflect the communities and clients we serve and the juries we face. But we need help to make that happen. Will you help us?”
By being honest and upfront about its lack of diversity, the firm was able to find several enthusiastic recruits who were excited about making big changes in a professional field that had changed very little over the last few decades. The law firm’s direct approach named the problem and appealed to people who were passionate about helping them make change.
Tip 4: Allow your employees to have a voice in your diversity efforts.
Efforts to make your business more diverse and inclusive will have greater success if associates feel they can be their true selves and express their thoughts, suggestions, concerns and ideas.
This ongoing dialogue is exactly where innovation and solutions are born. Hold meetings each week or month to discuss diversity and foster ideation on “What can we do to be better?” You’ll be amazed at the great ideas your team will generate — and their enthusiasm and commitment will help drive the ideas into action.
For example, a client of mine in a very traditional, male-dominated industry worked with all of their associates to generate ideas and initiatives that could help build a more diverse team for the future. Their associates felt strongly that mentoring was important. They put together a mentoring program for young women and people of color, to showcase not only the great jobs in their industry, but also the skills and attributes needed to be successful.
It worked! The company’s associates mentored a dozen young people and the mentees eventually joined the company. Everyone involved was proud of their efforts and deep bonds of commitment were formed along the way.
Tip 5: Make sure your marketing reflects diversity.
When marketing your business, use imagery that promotes people of different races and ethnicities, gender, age and abilities. Clearly state that you value different backgrounds and perspectives.
Your marketing materials need to show potential customers and associates that yours is an inclusive business. It puts the welcome mat out for potential new candidates, and it sends a clear message to your customers and prospects that you value diversity and are working hard to reflect the communities you serve.
One final thought
Every company and organization is trying to grow business. By recognizing the value of diverse associates, diverse customer groups and diverse perspectives, your business will grow. It’s a proven path to greater sales and profit, better solutions and better employee relations.
Recommended reading about diversity
Check out the following links to learn more about how businesses are succeeding with diversity and inclusion efforts.
Sales and Business Growth
Recruiting and Retaining Employees
Higher Employee Satisfaction