Why Equality and Diversity Need to be SMB Priorities

We’re at the start of a new year, and for many the beginning of a new fiscal year. So now is a great opportunity for small business leaders to pause and consider how they’re progressing on efforts to create a better and more inclusive work environment for their employees. There’s a strong business case for diversity that small businesses simply can’t afford to ignore.

Companies that embrace equality in the workforce can enjoy real and tangible financial gains. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates gender parity could add $12 trillion to the global economy, and suggests gender diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to financially out-perform their peers. Similarly, ethnically diverse companies are 35 per cent more likely to do the same.

It’s clear that leaders who prioritize more diverse and inclusive workforces elevate the effectiveness of their businesses, the satisfaction of employees and their overall success. In fact, a recent Salesforce report, “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business”, revealed that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five-times (4.6X) more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work, and employees who say their company provides equal opportunities are nearly four times (3.8X) more likely to say they are proud to work for their company.

So how can today’s small business leaders foster a culture of equality? Here are some key ways to get started:

Hire Talent from All Walks of Life

In business, as with anything else, you don’t know what you don’t know. Companies with a workforce where everyone thinks and looks the same are limited to the narrow experiences their employees share, whether from a cultural, gender or skillset perspective.

Bringing diverse voices into the mix can help your company glean insight into customers, foster new ways of thinking and innovating, and increase the likelihood that bad ideas will be challenged earlier on. Adding diversity means everything from including creatives in technical discussions (and vice versa) to broadening your talent base make up.

A good way to start is to prioritize diversity and make inclusive hiring a mandate. Seek out candidates who might have the will, but don’t yet have the skill, and find alternative ways to bring new thinking into your environment. It’s not just about ticking a box. It’s about making sure that your employees, from all walks of life, are included in discussions and feel they have earned a seat at the table.

Diversity plus inclusivity sets companies apart, and knowing that more than one third of the working-age population will belong to a visible minority group, and that nearly half of all Canadians could be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant by 2036, the time to put this combination into practice is now.

Ensure Everyone’s Voice is Heard

We’ve all heard stories about the brand new intern who pipes up with a great solution to a problem or a quiet employee who changes the course of a company with an innovative idea, but these scenarios simply aren’t going to happen if meetings are conducted in a way that people feel their voice or point of view isn’t going to be heard.

Some organizations address these situations by making meeting etiquette a part of clearly defined workplace culture statements. These statements might, for example, include clear language about giving everyone a chance to participate and offer input in meetings – without interruption. Or they might ban using laptops or other electronic devices in meetings that would otherwise distract employees from giving their undivided attention to colleagues while they’re speaking.

Everyone should have a right to add value to meetings; no one should be made to feel invisible. If employees feel respected, they can be solid contributors to the company’s mission.

Understand the Impact of Unconscious Biases

Biases are created based on our upbringing, personal relationships and experiences. Often, they’re subtle or hidden. But they can still come to the forefront at times and influence our interactions with employees.

Business leaders committed to creating a culture of equality must look at ways to reduce the effects of unconscious biases, and the best way to do that is through awareness and education. Start with yourself and lead by example.

It’s also important to look at ways to reduce unconscious biases at work. Consider creating educational videos, webcasts or podcasts to raise awareness of the issue and train employees on how to identify and understand the impact of unconscious bias. Online learning tools like Trailhead, for example, offer free and interactive learning paths which can train participants on the business value of having a diverse, inclusive workforce.

To succeed today, equality and diversity need to be a priority for every small business leader. The good news is that it’s never too early to start thinking about how to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Adam Kirsh is an AVP at Salesforce.