17 practical strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in your small business

Apr 26, 2021 | Business Principles

If you’ve realised that improving diversity and inclusion within your small business is a good idea (see here for why), either from a moral or a commercial point of view, the next step is identifying what you can actually do.

Cost is something that is a major concern to most small businesses, and the good news is these tips are either completely free, or very low cost. They also require very little time. Making a difference can be easier than you might think!

1. Talk to your employees about the issue. You could do this in an anonymous survey, although in a very small business the extent to which it can be anonymous is very limited. Or you could just do this in a team meeting. Ask them whether they feel the business is inclusive, or diverse enough, and for their ideas on what they think could be improved. Seeking their views will ensure the changes you make have a genuine impact.

2. Make sure leaders in your business understand why you are prioritising diversity and inclusion. Management buy-in significantly increases the chance of anything you are doing being embedded and really making a genuine difference.

3. Think about whether your employees really feel comfortable expressing concerns, whether major or minor ones. If you have a culture where someone genuinely feels they could raise something with their line manager without a negative reaction, they are more likely to feel valued and as though their point of view is genuinely taken into account. They are also more likely to raise any more serious concerns relating to discrimination or harassment.

4. Don’t panic and ban Christmas! We see this every year, where a company feels that being inclusive means banning mention of Christmas. No. Diversity and inclusion means a diverse range of activities and celebrations, not banning the ones you already have. Your average Muslim or Jew will have no problem with Christmas being celebrated, but doing it in the context of also marking other religious holidays or celebrations means you’re being inclusive, rather than irritating people.

5. Think about your social events and gatherings. Are they suitable for everyone, or do they always involve the same thing, at the same time? Recognise everyone’s needs and preferences, and widen the activities you do so there is something for everyone, whilst also making clear they are not compulsory.

6. Look at the wording of your job descriptions and recruitment advertisements. Are you unthinkingly using ‘gendered’ language, unconsciously aiming these at the people you associate with the role in question?

7. Make sure your position on diversity and inclusion is clearly communicated, both to employees and to the wider public. Look at your website and other external communications, but also think about things like induction of a new employee or other opportunities.

8. Be careful with diversity training. It might seem like a good idea but it can be a case of having no impact, having only a temporary impact or having a negative impact. It’s not a tick-box solution, and unless it is part of a genuine change across the organisation, it might come across that way. If you force people to go there is some evidence suggesting that it reinforces bias rather than addressing it. Leading by example and ongoing awareness activities and actual change might be more likely to have a genuine impact on changing attitudes than a couple of hours in a training session. If you do go ahead with training, make sure you take steps to ensure it is effective, including educating about why you are doing it, securing management buy-in, combining it with genuine change, and not seeing it as a one-off but as an ongoing thing. Think about making it voluntary. People want to think of themselves as being inclusive and want to be seen to do the right thing, but feeling forced might lead to resentment. If they turn up voluntarily the training is more likely to be effective.

9. Evaluate the diversity of your management team. If it looks very white male, why is that? You don’t need to do anything drastic but next time you are recruiting or promoting, think about how you can encourage a more diverse range of candidates to apply.

10. Foster a flexible working culture. Enabling people to vary their hours, work from home or work more flexibly in a variety of ways will encourage applications from a wider range of candidates, improve retention rates, facilitate more women remaining in the workforce following maternity leave, and in turn, give you a wider pool of candidates for leadership positions later.

11. Consider the benefits you offer. In a small business those might not be many, as money may be tight. But are those you do offer flexible? Do they cater to a range of people or are they only really relevant to a small group? Look at the take-up rate of benefits, and if some just aren’t being used, ask employees why.

12. Look at your HR policies. In a small organisation you may not have (or want) many policies. That’s fine, and sensible. You don’t want a lot of documents no one will read or use. But a policy or statement on equality/diversity and inclusion can be drafted in a concise way, making clear your stance on it, on what behaviour is expected, and how to raise concerns. You don’t need multiple policies on every protected characteristic. Simple and impactful is fine.

13. Conduct equality impact assessments for initiatives you want to implement. This will help you identify whether what you’re thinking of doing will be worthwhile, and also will help you avoid accidentally creating a problem for a different group. It doesn’t have to be a big administrative burden but can make a big difference.

For example if you are considering changing shift patterns to make it easier for employees to meet family or childcare obligations, without doing an equality impact assessment you may not realise that by doing so you are negatively impacting those of a particular religion.
You can use a simple form, and consider the impact of the proposed initiative on all the protected groups (not just the one you have in mind). Is there a positive impact, a negative impact or neutral? If there is a negative impact, can this be minimised or rectified by adjusting the proposed initiative? If not, is the initiative justified because of the positive impact elsewhere, or should it be abandoned.

14. Improve salary transparency. Equal pay can just as easily be a problem in a small business as a bigger one. In fact the absence of a formal salary structure can make it more likely. Transparency about pay, for example in job advertisements, will have two impacts. First it will help embed trust in the organisation, which is important if you want people to feel included and as though they can raise concerns. Secondly, if a manager knows the salary or salary range for a job will be published, they are more likely to check and make sure it is fair in the first place!

15. Consider how you communicate with employees. Is there a way you can improve this? Can people easily give feedback, or ask questions? Look at technology options to make communication more effective.

16. Check your social media analytics. If your followers are not as diverse as you would like, consider adjusting your content and who you share and comment on. Measure again after a period, to see whether it’s made any difference.

17. Look at the photos and graphic you use, on websites, marketing materials, social media and within your workplace. Do they represent a diverse range of people? Many sources of stock photos or apps to create graphics do not have as many images of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, for example, or if you search, frequently those come far down in the search results.

If you’d like some tailored advice on the best ways to improve diversity and inclusion in your small business, do get in touch.