4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Foster DEI Like C-Suite Executives

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Look around. Whether it’s the content you’re consuming, the kind of foods you enjoy, or the people you meet, diversity isn’t just a textbook concept anymore. There’s a high chance that your physician, your Uber driver, or neighbors are different from you.

Big brands have embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their marketing, human resources, and other departments. While someone should not be hired just because they belong to a minority group, that factor should also not be a hindrance to employment. DEI is not just about racial equity. It can also include embracing people with special needs, of different genders and sexual orientations, and who have different beliefs.

It is not a choice for entrepreneurs to even debate any more. It just makes ethical — and business — sense to be inclusive. Here are four ways business owners can adopt DEI practices like corporate executives.

1. Learn From Experts

If you have the right intentions, but aren’t sure where to start, listen to the experts in the field. Read books, stream podcasts, or attend seminars. In-person events are the best bet because not only do you leave with valuable information, you can also network. You spend part of your day mingling with like-minded individuals who are there for the same purpose.

If your budget allows, you could even invite a DEI speaker to your place of business. When you are hosting an expert in your office, they can tailor their presentation to your specific needs. Your employees can send in questions beforehand. You could also plan a meal or team building activity with the special guest. 

DEI is more than a diversity statement on a company website. It is not just a one-off matter. You don’t just invite an expert once and assume you’re done forever. Real change takes time and is more effective when it is worked on consistently and at all levels. Perhaps you can plan for a DEI event every quarter instead of annually.

2. Walk the Walk

Attend as many DEI events as you like, but unless you put those suggestions into action, not much will change. Make sure you convert the advice into realistic and actionable steps. Huddle with key team members and see what works for the size and structure of your workforce.

Hiring employees from diverse backgrounds is the easy part. Retaining them and ensuring they are satisfied is the challenging part. Learn about the holidays they celebrate and make sure it’s more than just approving a day off from work. With the employee’s consent, mention the holidays in your team meeting or newsletter. Encourage coworkers to learn about the significance.

A Muslim employee, for instance, may be fasting from dawn to dusk for Ramadan. So perhaps you can schedule the employee appreciation lunch after Ramadan, so everyone can enjoy it. If there are some Hindu employees who are strictly vegetarian, make sure the menu at the company picnic includes something other than hotdogs and pepperoni pizza.

3. Collaborate With Others

Entrepreneurs may have smaller budgets compared to C-suite executives. However, that doesn’t mean they cannot enjoy DEI team building and other initiatives. One way to save money is to partner with other small firms and get group rates on activities. Or you could collaborate with local minority organization initiatives.

Many local organizations provide mentorship programs for employees who are interested. Human Resources can learn from industry peers about best practices for hiring and growing a diverse workforce.  Marketing and advertising staff can learn from leading organizations about how to cater to a diverse audience. For example, Google has created inclusive marketing resources. By learning about the different perspectives of audience members, marketers can create more inclusive messaging.

Brands should not just be respectful of differences among their target market. That is the bare minimum. You should appreciate and celebrate diversity, and it should be visible across platforms. In the 2020 Census, the Diversity Index for the United States was 61%. This means there’s a 61% chance that two people chosen at random will be from different ethnicities and/or races. So prioritizing inclusivity is not just the right thing to do, it makes complete business sense too.

4. Figure Out Conflict Resolution

Whether your team is big or small, problems can arise. It is imperative that entrepreneurs are proactive. You should have inclusive practices in your employee handbook. You should also lay out their anti-discrimination policy in clear terms.

Your organizations can create employee resource groups that advocate for diverse staff. They can be a platform for employees to connect, share feedback, and work on DEI initiatives together. Oftentimes conversation can help with conflict resolution. There might not even be a need for complex strategies if both parties can just talk issues out in a civil manner. However, a trained supervisor can serve as an excellent mediator.

At times, business owners rush to showcase a diverse team without first evaluating if they can even handle it. Managers need to have the skill set to hire and retain employees from minorities. Otherwise conflict resolution can be expensive and time consuming. This is especially true if it results in lower employee morale and high turnover.

Evaluate Progress

If that is the case, managers should evaluate their initiatives. Any benchmarks or progress from DEI initiatives should be recorded. That way there is something to measure against for the next period.

However DEI initiatives should never just be put in place to check a box or satisfy number requirements. “We have x number of employees from a particular group,” should not garner bragging rights. Whether those employees feel included and valued is the actual litmus test.

DEI is not an abstract concept. It can make or break trust and human relationships. If you haven’t started prioritizing it, now is the time.

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