Three things small businesses can do right now to improve their diversity and inclusion
🕒 5 min read
✏️ El Cavanagh-Lomas
As we start to enter Autumn, world events from the summer continue to cast a long shadow. Throughout the summer months, marches in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) crisscrossed streets all over the world, with one of the more common messages being held aloft on homemade placards: that COVID isn’t the only virus the world faces – racism is one too.
Both present an existential threat that goes far beyond what happens in our workplaces, but ultimately impacts life inside them too. News that BAME people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus has only sharpened this observation.
For many people, myself very much included, the worldwide outpouring of grief and disgust at the cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – and the wider systemic racism they reveal – has been a wake-up call. But having spent the first months of the year responding like never before to the impact of the coronavirus, we have no excuse to sit on our hands.
The unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic has proven people and businesses capable of taking radical action for the safety and empowerment of their colleagues. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to apply this to the challenge posed by systemic racism and failing inclusivity.
Make no mistake, it will be no easy feat. This will take empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Seek help where you need it – there’s no silver bullet for this, and we all have to work on it together. And small businesses, as much as their larger counterparts, have an important role to play here. By their very nature, smaller organizations operate in closer proximity to both the people they serve and those they employ.
With that in mind, here are three things small businesses should bear in mind when plotting their important next steps toward improving diversity and inclusion:
1. Create a golden brain state of mind
Psychologists and neuroscientists have spent years studying the impacts of rejection and exclusion. The discovery that we experience social and physical pain in similar ways has been a revealing one – that being excluded can trigger these feelings is of even greater note in conversations about workplace Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).
Think about it: if it caused somebody physical pain to come to work, something would be done to remedy the situation. We should be acting on diversity and inclusion in the same way.
How we feel and what’s going on in our heads can have a huge impact on our work. The way I like to think about this is achieving my ‘golden brain state’: the mood or disposition I need to be in to feel and operate at my best. At a minimum this involves having the confidence to simply be myself at work – and be my whole self.
This is something we can all do and, crucially, encourage in others. Consider how your behavior might be preventing a colleague from bringing their whole self to work – what can you do to help them achieve their golden brain state.
2. It’s not about policy, but practice
In the wake of the BLM protests, many businesses announced that they would be designing and implementing new policies to address their own blind spots to racism and lacking inclusivity.
This is good news, but ultimately change will only come from what we actually do to make a difference – not just what we say we want to do. Put more simply, it’s about practicing what we preach.
Hiring is the most obvious place to address diversity and inclusion issues – it’s one of the most instrumental ways in which you shape your workforce, after all. But I believe it’s time to open up conversations about more radical changes that can build on important policies such as ensuring proper representation among candidates and interview panels too.
Have you considered a blind hiring process, for instance? If something feels like a bold step to take, then there’s a chance it’s worth exploring in this case.
D&I has to live on beyond the hiring process as well. Retention is just as significant, and that is only made possible by fostering an inclusive environment for all employees, whatever the color of their skin – just as should be the case for gender, sexuality, age, disability or any aspect of what makes people who they are.
Measurement here is vital too, because in business: what gets measured gets done. It’s all too easy for the pressures of quarterly targets and ‘business priorities’ to shunt new initiatives to the side.
To avoid falling back into bad old habits, diversity and inclusion programs should be tracked and measured like any other business-critical process.
3. ‘The little big things’
The drop that filled the glass. The straw that broke the camel’s back. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our language is filled with phrases like these, all recognizing that big things are achieved by collective, sustained effort. I have my own phrase for this: ‘doing the little big things.’ It means focusing on the small, incremental (and measurable!) steps you can take to achieving a bigger goal.
This isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it’s one that’s simple enough to live by. That’s the beauty of it. It takes anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit, and an average of 66 days for that behavior to become automatic.
The little big things can be anything from learning something new, to questioning behaviors, to doing something differently – the point is that these are achievable (if sometimes challenging) things that can be built into your day-to-day routines and activity.
El Cavanagh-Lomas is VP of People and Communities for Cisco Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia (EMEAR). Her passion is to drive business outcomes that have the employee experience at their heart. For more advice and insight on fostering positive employee experiences in small businesses, read more articles here.
Cisco is helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19, explore how here.