Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term to frame a workplace’s culture, policies and procedures by honoring and welcoming differences, providing equal access to opportunities and empowering people to show up as their authentic selves. DEI initiatives are a targeted response to historical conditions that have caused marginalized groups to be overlooked or unfairly excluded from being hired, receiving livable wages, and gaining promotions based on their color, race, disability, gender identity, or sexual preferences.
Did you know that more than 75% of job applicants report that having a diverse workforce is important when making a decision on where to work? According to the same Glassdoor survey, 41% of Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ job seekers will not even apply to a job when there is a lack of diversity in the company.
If you’re not focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion, you are risking tension in the workplace, difficulty hiring and retaining quality employees, and potential legal action and grievances. By prioritizing initiatives that support DEI, you will see a positive shift in your workplace by allowing staff to show up authentically and bring their talents to the table.
Five tangible initiatives to promote DEI in your small business
Making the shift to prioritize DEI has its own barriers like finances, lack of buy-in from management, cultural resistance, inadequate training, and fear of getting uncomfortable. To support small business owners who want to intentionally invest in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have developed a list of tangible initiatives that overcome these barriers.
1. Use SMART goals.
Using specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals will help you put your plan into action and obtain better results.
You can use the SMART method to break down your overarching goals for DEI into smaller pieces: for example, holding one DEI-related topic for training per month. This will allow you to track your employees’ progress with learning, create opportunities for in-depth training and discussion on each DEI topic, and decrease fear or overwhelm when exploring DEI topics in the workplace. These goals can apply to all employees, and shared, clear goals are less intimidating for managers to implement.
2. Make it a group thing.
Involving your entire staff in DEI efforts creates solidarity in achieving your DEI goals. Conversations are a great way to build connection and safety with all employees, and holding the expectation for every employee to participate in DEI efforts prevents bias.
Ice-breaker questions can help your employees learn about one another and share information about themselves. This process creates space for shifting the work culture by building relationships and finding commonalities.
3. Audit your current practices.
Take stock of your current practices in pay, benefits, recruitment, retention, and promotion, and revise any areas where there is tangible or potential inequity.
Start by reviewing and comparing all of your employees’ salaries and benefits to determine equitable pay rates and benefit packages, and ensure growth opportunities are open to all employees. Address any discrepancies you see to ensure fair pay and benefit practices, and create policies that will help ensure new employees are started on equal footing. Exit interviews will help you understand what drives employees to make the decisions to leave, while stay interviews provide information on what is going well and should be continued.
When a position opens, the job description should clearly outline your hiring practices. Ideally, it will include clear qualifications and role expectations, salary range, an inclusion/fair hiring statement. It should be broadly shared and open for anyone to apply. This can help prevent bias in promotions, and allow you to learn which employees are actively seeking growth and development.
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4. Seek outside training.
Relevant diversity training through local DEI consultants is a great way to jumpstart your process of focusing efforts on DEI work. Consultants will be knowledgeable about training options and can recommend options to best fit your business’s needs related to size, industry, and specific concerns that impact your employees—as well as to larger systemic issues that impact your workers in tangible ways.
5. Create open lines of communication.
As the leader, it is important for you to not shy away from tough conversations. Transparent and regular communication are key to building trust. Employees must feel welcomed to share their thoughts without fearing consequences for doing so. Having an open door policy in addition to a grievance policy invites your employees to engage in conversation with you and your management team without fear of being retaliated against or creating a hostile work environment.
Talking openly with your staff creates space not only for boss-to-employee conversations: It sets the tone for your entire team to have both small and large conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.
You’ll face challenges by prioritizing DEI, but they will pay off
Diving into this work may come with challenges like resistance from staff, temporary discomfort or tension in the workplace, budget accommodations, and a learning curve for measuring progress. However, you will find the benefits of increased morale, a positive cultural shift, increased employee retention, and improved candidate recruitment worth the effort and commitment.
DEI resources that will help you get started
If you are looking to get started in this important work, we recommend deepening your knowledge on DEI work through literature, deciding on a training model, and consulting with a paid DEI expert. Here are a few places to get started:
- The University of Missouri-Kansas City Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reading list
- The Diversity and Inclusion Training Guide (including a list of recommended training programs) from Diversity for Social Impact
- DEI Professionals DEI Network resource for expert diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants
Building an intentional diversity, equity and inclusion framework in your business will have many benefits both within your work and beyond. Your employees will feel connected, supported and happy to come to work each day. You will see your production, workplace morale and employee retention increase, and you will gain interest from quality candidates for positions.
At J.Scott Marketing, we believe in this important work and identify diversity, equity and inclusion as one of our core values. We believe that any small business owner can use their business as a platform to be part of the solution to making the world a more equitable place for all to contribute their gifts—because we all benefit when everyone’s gifts are best used. We invite you to read more about our core values as you consider the impact you have the potential to make.