Incorporating diversity and inclusion in small business

Diversity and inclusion as embedded values and behaviours in small business are an important step in future proofing a great workplace culture.

Essentially, diversity among employees means establishing a mix that reflects the cultural differences of customers, clients and overall audience. Varying gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability and age in the workplace is challenging to develop but can serve to heighten the mix of innovative ideas and creativity.

While “diversity” is the what, inclusiveness is the “how” and refers to the ongoing activity as businesses adapt their behaviours, practices and environment to incorporate diversity in all its forms.

Aside from being morally right though, why should small business incorporate diversity and inclusion?

The clear and unequivocal answer is that if you get diversity and inclusion right in your organisation you stand to make considerable business gains no matter how big or small your business is.*

A 2015 research report by Bersin on the business outcomes of incorporating diversity and inclusion across 128 organisations found that the smaller companies with established cultures of diversity and inclusion had 13 times higher mean operational cashflow.**

In addition, McKinsey state that organisations in the top 25 per cent for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians.***

Alex Archie, Asset President Shale at BHP reports that analysis of performance metrics after introducing increased diversity and inclusion in their work teams showed improved safety performance and higher employee engagement scores.****

All this adds up to a potentially happier workforce, with less absenteeism and more passion for work. More passion means more productivity.

How can businesses drive this culture shift?

  • The first step is to stamp diversity and inclusion into the business values. Writing down the pledge to D & I is essential. Then learning to live it is…..
  • Make a plan and understand that this is a long term commitment- not an immediate win. Businesses should ask:
    • What type of diversity can the workplace incorporate?
    • Do any environmental changes need to occur to facilitate this?
    • What regular meetings, events and training does the business need to diarise?
  • Address unconscious biases that staff may have that will influence their ability to unconditionally adopt diversity and inclusion at work. Business owners may need external assistance via a cultural intelligence program where employees become more aware of their self imposed limitations. There is no point moving forward unless this bogeyman is effectively addressed.
  • Ensure that Team Leaders understand the why. It is essential that these behaviours and values are embraced from the top down.
  • Evaluate recruitment and on-boarding procedures to reflect the business commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Business owners and colleagues spending time getting to know the cultural background of other team members can create understanding of the motivations and strengths staff can bring to the workplace. Remember…Communication should always be two way and involve a lot of active listening!
  • Allow staff the opportunity to voice suggestions to make the workplace flow better. A regular team meeting is a great forum to do this.
  • Engage customers and outside communities in the business mission – Where possible employees could participate in events that foster diversity and inclusion and support their own cultural beliefs flexibly.

There is a lot to gain by committing to drive diversity and inclusion as core values and behaviours in your business. Happy employees = happier customers + better business outcomes.

* 2013: Juliette Bourke et al: Deloitte + Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission: “Waiter is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance.” Research Report.

** 2015: Bersin by Deloitte: “High Impact Talent Management.” Research report.

*** 2015: Vivian Hunt et al: McKinsey: “Why diversity matters.” Article.

**** 2016: Alex Archilis: BHP Prospects (/media-and-insights/prospects): “The commercial case for inclusion and diversity.”

Lexie Wilkins, Culture and Employee-Engagement Expert and Director, Lexie Wilkins Consulting

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