How to promote diversity and inclusion in a small business

Diversity and inclusion have started to become a bit of a buzzword in the corporate world, and it’s great that so many big businesses are taking steps to make their workplaces more inclusive. But if you have a small workforce, or no employees at all, it can be hard to see how your business can promote.

diversity and inclusion in a substantial way rather than as just a symbolic box ticking exercise. Here, we’ve got the low down on why diversity and inclusion are important for any business and some tips for you to consider to make a better workplace for everyone, no matter the size of your business.

What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

When thinking about diversity it’s easy to think of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation however, the spectrum is much broader than that, attributes and characteristics can also include age, religion, socio-economic status, education level and more. A diverse workplace will value employing and working with people from a range of backgrounds.

If everyone who works within your business looks the same, thinks the same and has the same background, then it’s probably not as diverse as it could be. Inclusion means that everyone, regardless of who they are, feels supported in the workplace and like they have equal opportunities and treatment in all aspects of work.

No matter what size your business is, having a diverse employee and customer base can help you grow better and faster. Being exposed to perspectives and experiences different than your own can be incredibly useful for innovation, and celebrating those differences can create stronger relationships with those you work with, leading to greater retention.

While small businesses have their own unique challenges to growth, they can be better positioned to make diversity and inclusion part of their culture from the start. If you build in diversity and inclusion as you begin, it will naturally be a central part of your business’ work culture and not something you’ll have to address retroactively.

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

For one, it’s legally required… but it’s also the right thing to do. And on top of that, studies show that diverse businesses are more resilient, attract a broader customer base, and have happier, more confident staff.

A 2020 survey from Glassdoor found that 76% of employees and job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers and 32% said that they would not apply to a job at a company where there is a lack of diversity in the workforce.

Research by Great Place to Work shows that when employees trust that they will be treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age, they are:

Ultimately, diversity is good business practice. It shows that you respect your employees and in return, they’ll be happier about working for you. Fostering the kind of environment where everyone you work with feels valued can only be a good thing.

What are the laws and regulations regarding inclusion in the workplace?

In the UK, there are nine main characteristics which are protected under the Equality Act 2010 including: age, disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage status, pregnancy or maternity, religions or beliefs and membership in a trade union.

The Equality Act 2010 brings together many different pieces of legislation and provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals from unfair treatment and advance equal opportunities.

In addition to the Equality Act, both the Commission of Equality and Human Rights (EHRC) and the Human Rights Act of 1998 set out further rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to – including in the workplace.

These pieces of legislation ensure that there’s consistent standards for equal treatment in workplaces all across the UK. If a workplace is found to be discriminating against employees, they can be taken to an Employment Tribunal and may have to pay compensation for any damages, loss, or suffering.

What are the business benefits of a diverse workplace?

While improving diversity in your company should not be seen as a means to an end, it’s undeniable that workplace diversity is helpful to your business. Let’s dive deeper into some of the benefits you might see by increasing diversity at your company:

A 2019 report by Gartner, a consulting firm, states that 75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets.

According to an infographic created by SCORE:

  • Gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to outperform
  • Ethnically-diverse companies are 33% more likely to outperform
  • Non-diverse companies are 29% more likely to underperform

All the extra experience and unique perspectives certainly benefit the bottom line – often through the faster decision making and greater innovation that diversity brings.

Small businesses may struggle to hire top talent due to having smaller budgets than big companies. Without a competitive salary or benefit packages, they need other ways to gain and retain quality employees.

If you’ve already got great employees, it’s good to know that diverse companies have 5.4 times higher employee retention while 72% of employees would consider leaving an organization for one they think is more inclusive.

When it comes to attracting talent, a 2020 Glassdoor study found that 76% of job seekers are seeking a diverse workforce when evaluating companies and job offers.

Your customers are diverse too, so showing that you value diversity by having a diverse workforce helps your general image. It may encourage future customers or clients to choose your business over others and increase positive references to your company.

When your team has a wide variety of experiences and perspectives, their outputs will be more creative as they bring together everyone’s input rather than a brainstorming meeting just being an echo chamber of ideas from a like-minded group.

As the data from SCORE states:

  • Companies with below-average diversity earned 26% of their revenue from innovation
  • Companies with above-average diversity earned 45% of revenue from innovation
  • Businesses with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation

Research from People Management has shown that diverse teams see a 60% improvement in decision-making abilities while SCORE’s data says that diverse teams make decisions 2X faster with half the number of meetings and that their decisions deliver 60% better results.

Ways to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Whether you work alone or have a few employees that work for you, it’s important to consider how you can support diversity in your business.

General tips:

Be aware of unconscious bias
Unconscious bias refers to subconscious favouritism or dislike for people with certain traits. Learning to identify your unconscious bias and finding ways to combat it are a great first step.

Look beyond employees
Diversifying your company could also mean including diversity on an advisory board that oversees your business, in the mentors that you choose, or even the contractors you opt to work with. Don’t get hung up on diversity only being important in a hiring process.

Update your marketing
Ensure that any imagery or photography used in your marketing materials such as your website, social media, or flyers show a diverse range of people.

Use preferred names and pronouns
Whether it’s customers or employees, don’t shorten someone’s name or give them a nickname without asking. If you find a name difficult to pronounce, ask for a phonetic spelling to help you and write that down. Similarly, if someone asks for certain pronouns to be used, respecting that is important. You can help normalise these actions by adding your name pronunciation on LinkedIn (it’s a relatively new feature) and by adding your preferred pronouns to an email signature or next to your name on social channels.

Expand your network
Make sure that the people you network with don’t all look and think like you. Diversify your network through online or in-person groups talking about diversity in your industry. Even work on expanding your LinkedIn network by following new people.

Check your social media audience
If you’re on any platforms that give you demographic information about your followers, take a look at that data. If your followers aren’t diverse, consider why that might be and think about how you can adjust your content to be friendly for a more diverse audience.

Look at the whole supply chain
If you get any products or services from other businesses, make an effort to get them from a minority owned business.

Expand your offerings
If your business sells a product, consider how you can innovate or adapt it to be useful for a diverse range of people. For example, AXA customer Helen Tamblyn-Saville has a section in her bookstore of books that are dyslexia friendly. This helps a group of people who might otherwise find a bookstore intimidating to feel included.

Tips for businesses with employees:

Facilitate ongoing feedback
Surveys can be a great way to measure employee satisfaction even for small businesses. If you decide to use one, consider including some questions around diversity and inclusion. Culture Amp suggest using an agree/disagree spectrum and statements such as “I can voice a contrary opinion without fear of negative consequence”, “perspectives like mine are included in decision making” and “I feel like I belong at [company]” as a starting point.

Consider how you work
If your industry allows it, flexible working can really help with diversifying the talent your business attracts. Flexibility can include the number of days worked per week, where employees work from, what time of day they work at and more. This kind of flexibility particularly helps people who are parents or carers and might have family responsibilities that they need to work around.

Be accountable
Make your plans for improving diversity and inclusion in your business public. This allows all your employees and customers to take part in holding you accountable and making sure that you really see things through.

Look at your HR policies
As a small business, you may not have a large number of policy documents, however a concise statement on equality and diversity in your workplace can be very helpful. At a minimum, this document should make it clear what behaviour is expected from employees, information around discrimination and the law, how to raise concerns and the procedures for resolving any issues.

Update hiring practices
There are many ways to make your hiring practices more inclusive, starting with avoiding any gendered language in the job description and reducing the paperwork and hurdles people must go through to get hired. A shorter hiring process make it more accessible for people as does accepting transferrable skills from other industries. Spend some time thinking about comparable experiences and how they fit into the role rather than only looking for directly matching experience.

Promote pay equity and transparency
If your business is small, you may not have a formal salary structure. Creating a structure and sticking to it can help to curb issues around pay inequity. Similarly, including the salary in job descriptions creates greater transparency around pay so that employees can raise concerns when necessary.

Don’t do too much too fast
All of these ideas can sound like a lot to do, so start with a few top priorities and do those well. Add more when you can! The important thing is to start doing something rather than it being so overwhelming that you don’t know where to begin.

Think about your social events
Do they only celebrate certain holidays and ignore others? Do the activities at the vary so that different interests are met? Are there low cost or no cost gatherings that are accessible to all? Social events are a great way to build company culture and make sure people bond, so it’s best when there are no barriers to participation.

All links are checked and valid at time of publishing, 13 September 2022.