Although we’re already almost two weeks into the new year, it’s not too late to make a new year’s resolution or two for your small business. One I’m making this year—and I encourage you to make as well—is to find ways to increase a commitment to diversity. In part, this is in response to the social justice awakening of the last year, but it’s also good business.
“The way companies show up for diverse communities impacts the way that people want to spend their dollars,” said Dr. Atira Charles, who is head of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (D.I.E.) at Moet Hennessy North America. “There’s both a moral reason and a business case for doing what’s right.”
Regardless of your politics, diversity and inclusion affect your bottom line. A diverse workforce makes your company more resilient, helps you grow. An inclusive attitude helps you attract a broader audience. And today’s customers increasingly want to know you respect and embrace diversity.
I spoke with Dr. Charles at some length, because the issue of diversity is a challenging one for small businesses. Even if we want to do the right thing, it’s tough. After all, we may only hire a few people—so how can a small business ensure a diverse set of workers? And we only have so many marketing dollars—so how can a small business attract a diverse set of customers?
“The first step,” said Dr. Charles, “is to ask yourself: what is the pulse of our company climate and culture—how do people feel here? The number of who’s in the room doesn’t matter if the culture and climate of the business is not inclusive.”
A company’s culture and communication style is important for both attracting and retaining diverse workers and also for attracting and retaining a diverse customer base. “It’s like inviting someone to your house,” said Dr. Charles. “If the whole family got into a fight before anyone comes over, your guests aren’t going to feel good either.”
“At Moet Hennessy, we look at diversity and inclusion both internally and externally—both who works here and what are we doing to serve our diverse customer base,” added Dr. Charles. “We want to make sure that we hear them, see them, and we care about the issues they are dealing with.”
“If you look around, and everyone looks the same, thinks the same, and comes from the same place, that’s the first problem,” explained Dr. Charles. That lack of diversity affects your potential growth. “If there’s a lack of people from different backgrounds, it affects all the innovations that could come from a more diverse workforce…Ask yourself ‘does my employee base reflect the community I serve? or want to serve?’ Recognize there are opportunities there.”
I know what you might be thinking: “Isn’t all this attention to diversity just in response to recent events? Won’t it go away?” No. Both employees and customers want to know that the companies they do business with reflect inclusive values. And that’s a trend that’s been growing for many years.
I know. I was the first author to include a “Social Responsibility” section into a business plan guide 30 years ago when I wrote Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies. At the time, everyone thought I was crazy. Even I thought I’d lose sales. Now, incorporating social responsibility—and issues such as diversity and inclusion—into your business and business plan is expected.
What are steps you can take in your small business to increase diversity, inclusion, and equity?
- Ensure a welcoming, communicative work environment where everyone feels they are seen, heard, and valued.
- Train all staff to treat everyone with respect, no matter what they look like, how they’re dressed, their ethnicity, age, gender, religion.
- Be more inclusive in your messaging and in the images you use, such as on your website and in your marketing materials.
- Expand your reach and pipeline when you have job openings to communicate with a more diverse potential applicant pool.
- Look for more diversity in your suppliers.
- Consider ways to make your products and services meet the needs of a more diverse and inclusive community.
If you still have a bottle of your New Year’s champagne hanging around—perhaps a bottle of Moet—you might want to raise a glass and share a toast with Dr. Charles: “As we say ‘cheers’ to a new year, let us focus on impacting people in the most positive way we can.”
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2021
This article originally ran in USA Today on January 13, 2021