Making Room for Differences: Part of the “Improving DE&I for SMBs” Series

Written by Staff

July 1, 2021

Making Room for Differences: Part of the “Improving DE&I for SMBs” Series

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) for small business is a critical component for growth. However, achieving these goals can be particularly challenging because small businesses often face limited resources. They lack experience in DE&I initiatives, and a lack of knowledge on the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Additionally, small businesses may struggle to attract and retain diverse talents due to a lack of visibility. Other factors are limited recruitment channels, and a lack of internal support for DE&I efforts.

Overcoming these obstacles requires a comprehensive approach. This includes education, training, and the implementation of effective policies and practices to promote DE&I at all levels of the organization.

Here are a lot of fundamental obstacles in DE&I work:

  • How can we repair something that's invisible or disbelieved by those who haven't experienced it? 
  • How can we change a systemically biased culture when it threatens those we're asking to change? 
  • How can we show that harmful practices affect not only marginalized groups but everyone? 
  • How do we get past "you're doing it wrong" to a place of compassion for everyone? 
  • How can we embrace the process of making mistakes while learning and strive to improve? 
  • How do we explain that slow incremental change has not significantly improved things for people of color and women in almost 60 years, while also recognizing that changing things does take time? 
  • How can we shift our perspective without expecting those who have experienced discrimination, violence, pandemic, and systemic bias to educate us? 
  • How can we make people understand that all forms of discrimination and abuse of power (even unintentional) causes trauma and is a health and safety concern?

DE&I improves employees' wellbeing

We all benefit from less trauma in the world. Implementing DE&I for small businesses can positively impact their employees' well-being. Imagine the possibilities if many of us didn't have to spend time and energy recovering from discrimination.

Yet, while each of the bullet points above is a real problem, they're not something you can hastily address. This is because each of these questions deals with symptoms of systemic bias. And people who benefit from this bias are threatened by the effects of adapting DE&I for small business.

Let's focus on the root problem to find solutions instead of just addressing symptoms. DE&I for small business is a holistic action in solving the old problem of systemic bias. You don't teach someone with a broken leg to walk; you set the bone and protect it so it can heal.

Making room for diversity 

Start by making room for difference. This is where DE&I for small business comes in. For the past decade, organizations have been obsessed with culture and engagement. This includes the current buzzwords of employee experience and employee value proposition. We survey, choose goals and metrics, and measure our way into data that never makes a real difference in what it's like to work at our organization.

Instead, we have to make room for diversity. That means different people, different ideas, different approaches, different tools, and different perspectives. The zeitgeist is leaning more towards the values embedded in DE&I and many organizations across the country are already implementing it.

Trying a different approach

It's important to realize that our approach to anything might not be the only option. Even though it may have worked in the past, the world is ever-changing. This is a great opportunity to reevaluate pretty much everything. DE&I for small business is instrumental in this overall redirection.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we had to drastically alter our usual workplace functions and activities. We realized that many things we've always taken as given were not required; they were just what we've always done. We became more aware of when and how we ask people to show up. We became more concerned for everyone's safety and well-being. We worried about privacy when zooming into people's homes. We relaxed about interruptions because our kids need to be kids, cats love keyboards and attention, and dogs only needed to pee when the boss asks us a question.

We looked at work with fresh eyes and adjusted. We gave each other grace for missed deadlines, mistakes, and bad memories. How can we keep that going?

DE&I for small business prioritizes safety

Employers have a legal obligation to create and maintain a discrimination and harassment-free workplace. When we see DE&I as an extension of health, safety, and wellness, we can start to focus on prevention and create a workplace where people feel safe, comfortable, and welcome.

People over policies

Employment lawyers and organizations cherish rules and policies because they create clarity on expectations and, in theory, ensure that everyone is treated equally. However, oftentimes people don't look into them until an issue arises, making it too late to enforce them. As a result, they may be followed inconsistently.

The idea that you can treat everyone the same is also kind of ridiculous when you start to really think about it. We all have different jobs and are different people living different lives. We each bring our unique perspective, skills, and talents to the work. That's what makes great work. It's never been about treating people the same. You can't.

Allow equity, compassion, and flexibility to guide decisions rather than adherence to policy. Treating people fairly means accommodating the unique needs of each person with respect to their inalienable rights.

Adopting DE&I leads to positive changes

When we began to look at how to make life easier for people with disabilities, we came up with solutions. Everyone benefits from the origination of text messaging, closed captioning on video, and ergonomics. Creating inclusive workplaces can help us break down barriers to doing our best work.

When we make room for difference, new things become possible. So, instead of creating a program, establishing goals, tracking data, and checking boxes, rethink what we're trying to do.

Having diverse perspectives allows us to understand and serve our customers better. Offering equitable compensation, benefits, performance management, and approaches to leave allows us to focus on doing great work.

Ensuring an inclusive work culture means we can be ourselves and feel safe, appreciated, and strive to learn, improve, and excel at our jobs. 


Next, we'll talk about how to figure out what's working and what needs work and how to do a DE&I Audit. 

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