Discussion: diversity & inclusion as a small business
There is no quick fix for the issues that have evolved around diversity, inclusion and belonging in our world, but we can all commit to making a difference on an independent level, and it spreads from there. By living a more diverse and inclusion-focused life we can start to lead a business that reflects those values, even in just the smallest ways. Those small actions when let loose into the world can grow and inspire others to make similar commitments in their personal worlds. It’s about committing to do better on an individual base so we can start to do better as a whole.
This is not your quick fix answer (that doesn't exist.)
If you clicked on this blog because you want an easy answer, or an actionable to-do list that will elevate your small business into a place of diversity and inclusion… I hate to break it to you but that doesn’t exist. If you are a big business you might hire a diversity manager who has years of experience on the subject, but if you are a one-person business or just a handful of people operating a small business then the work that needs to be done starts internally in the way that we think and perceive the world, and how we reflect that back into our business.
There are many different aspects of inclusion that may be overlooked in everyday life, often unintentionally. We get so caught up in our own world and our own experience that sometimes we forget to think critically about how our messaging hits the receiving side.
The first step is to take the time to understand what diversity and inclusion are, and more importantly, why it's so important to bring these elements to the forefront of our minds while we are operating in our businesses and our daily lives.
Seek new perspectives, stay open minded.
I heard someone say once that diversity is being asked to the table, and inclusion is being asked to speak and share. I love a good metaphor and this one really hit home. If someone doesn’t take the opportunity to learn about the folks that are not at the table in front of them, they may not even notice that they are missing. But you know who does notice? Is anybody sitting in the dark at the edge of the room, watching a table full of people who don’t even see that they are missing.
There is not just one table. Diversity is a football field of tables; gender, appearance, race, ability, age, class etc. When a person sits at most of the tables in the field (yeah I’m losing the metaphor) it’s easy to go through life without realizing that others are left out. That first step is when someone makes the effort to stand up and observe the tables that they are privileged to sit at.
As a personal anecdote on inclusion, I once worked for a film festival where I had to scout out venues and it was a really eye-opening and perspective changing experience for me. Part of the requirements for the festival venues was accessibility, and I very naively thought that this meant that if a venue had ramp access then we were good to go! When I learned about all the different ways that a venue can be inaccessible I was shook with how easily I had just passed through all those spaces without a second thought. Taking the time to ensure there was proper lighting for someone with limited vision, access to washrooms without a lip to step over for those with mobility issues or providing places to sit for those that couldn’t stand for a long time in a line were just a few of the things that I retrospectively felt like I should have known. They never crossed my mind because they weren’t barriers to me, but ever since that experience I see public spaces differently because through that experience I learned to see a new perspective that I carried with me moving forward.
By taking the time to understand what other perspectives and realities exist beyond our own we can create bigger tables with a seat for everyone (still on the metaphor, I can’t let go.) As a business it’s important to be aware of those you may be leaving out of both your physical space but also your digital space, workplace and surrounding community.
Apply these principles to your small business.
As a small business we can make a huge difference in making our communities inclusive by actively learning on a personal level and letting those values seep into our business too. Evaluate the various aspects of your business that could be more diverse or inclusive, like your workforce, products or services, physical space, website, marketing, social media and branding. Don’t rush to be an expert, find your place in your own growth even if it’s just sharing and supporting other businesses or sharing as you learn yourself.
Take the time to review how exclusive your marketing is and consider if you are projecting a narrow view of your product or service. For example if you sell lipstick, your social media might be full of images of young women, which may discourage an older audience from purchasing from you because they don’t see themselves represented. That being said, having a target audience is great and I’m not saying you need to market to everyone, but just consider if you are excluding people subconsciously based on those that are ‘sitting at the table’ around you.
Double check your social media and marketing posts not just for inclusion but to make sure that you aren’t unintentionally appropriating a culture or amplifying a voice that is hurtful to others. Sometimes we get caught up in the rush of running a business and forget to think critically about what we are saying.
Take personal actions first, let it carry forward.
The best way to become a constant learner is to diversify your network and join discussions online that are new to your regular perspective. Follow new accounts that you don't see, or even better, that make you uncomfortable. If seeing someone with a disability put on makeup or someone with a body bigger than a size 16 in lingerie makes you feel weird then you really should go follow some new accounts so you can remove those biases from your mind.
Take a look around at who is at your table - who do you follow on social media and who do you work with, who are your customers? By diversifying our personal influences we can shift our perspectives to be more inclusive to those that weren’t invited to the table the first time.