How To Build A Culture Of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion At Your Small Business

By Net Supatravanij | October 8, 2021

Everyone deserves a chance to thrive. When setting up a small business, building a fair and inclusive workplace culture is just as important as your market strategy or business plan.

There’s a common misconception: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is something only big corporations have. The truth is, DE&I can and should start at all levels. Future-proofing DE&I at your workplace is the only way to ensure that all stakeholders – internal and external – are safeguarded. If you’re starting a new business or thinking about investing in a DE&I culture for the first time, here are a few ways to get started.

Create a DE&I squad

It doesn’t matter if there’s 2 or 10 people in the squad. What is important is that there is an employee-driven group that’s been established. Key word: employee-driven. It’s important that there’s an initiative led by employees, independent from HR (if you have it) or the management team or C-suite (if you don’t). At ila, the social enterprise I set up to improve gender equality and inclusion in the workplace, we find that the best clients are the one that already have DE&I squads within their companies.

Why? Because they’re usually the instigators of new and creative ideas to improve company culture while increasing employee engagement. Your DE&I taskforce can start small. Begin with highlighting any areas of concern, improvements you’d like to see or initiatives you want to pilot.

Ensure your ideas are backed by budget

To create a successful company culture, there should be a budget to enable progression from idea to implementation. As the saying goes, ‘put your money where your mouth is’. You’d be shocked at how many businesses we’ve consulted with who think $500 will magically change company culture. Big budgets aren’t essential for DE&I, but having a cushion to enable you to implement some initiatives right away without hesitation will really help.

What else should you consider spending your hard-earned entrepreneur dollars on? We advise aspirational SMEs to look at the growing DE&I tech market which, in less than 4 years, is already valued at $300 million.

What is DE&I tech? It’s technology-based DE&I solutions that help businesses in 1 of 4 areas: talent acquisition, learning & development, employee engagement and analytics. This can include software like ideal to decrease unconscious bias when hiring or employee engagement training tools like ALLY.

Practice allyship

Allies are powerful tools, and there are many reasons why allyship is needed inside the workplace. But businesses of all sizes tend to underestimate how allyship - between colleagues in particular - can be incredibly powerful. As a rule of thumb, I define being an ally as someone who is ‘Actively Listening and Looking Out For You.’

In companies where colleagues feel more equipped and therefore empowered to help each other, your management or owner/operator role is less about enforcing and more about amplifying. For small businesses, a culture of allyship is crucial as teams work closer together and there aren’t the fixed structural procedures in place that large corporations have.

For smaller businesses, there’s an even bigger opportunity to demonstrate a social and ethical footprint by encouraging employees to co-create solutions.

Social impact is crucial

Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a lot of DE&I initiatives fall into goal 3 (good health and wellbeing), goal 5 (gender equality) and goal 10 (reduced inequalities). But what a lot of people tend to assume is that DE&I stops inside the boundaries of the office. In reality, the effects are far more wide-reaching.

For example, did you know 64% of millennials won’t take a job if their employee doesn’t have a strong CSR policy? Or that 83% will be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues? According to Forbes, that number increases exponentially when it comes to Gen Z: set to make up 30% of the workforce in just 4 years.

For smaller businesses, there’s an even bigger opportunity to demonstrate a social and ethical footprint by encouraging employees to co-create solutions . Unlike larger organizations that have many protocols to follow, SMEs have the flexibility to speak out, act fast and follow through. Whether Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, MeToo or environmental concerns; stakeholders will value an authentic stance on all kinds of issues that affect all members of society.
For smaller businesses, there’s an even bigger opportunity to demonstrate a social and ethical footprint by encouraging employees to co-create solutions.

And finally – don’t forget that purpose-driven businesses with a proud social conscience tend to have a better chance of selling to today’s consumers. Retail customers are increasingly looking to support businesses that are inclusive, sustainable and human-centric.

There’s no better time to foster a DE&I culture in your own business - whether it’s to retain talent, drive reputation in your industry, attract customers or simply make the world a better place to live and work in.

For more tips on building an ethical business and minimizing your impact on the environment, check out more sustainability stories here.
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About the Author
the author bio

Net Supatravanij

Co-founder, ila

Net is a UN Women speaker and co-founder of Ila, a social enterprise helping businesses and start ups achieve gender equality in the workplace. Originally from Bangkok, Net now lives in London.

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