Over the last couple of years, many initiatives have been launched to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Examples are the introduction of a quota for female employees and campaigns against discrimination on the basis of gender or age. Public opinion forces large companies to get to work on a diversity policy. But SMEs are not moving forward as much as they could. Not because they do not care, but, as an FD research article (in Dutch) shows, because the subject does not have top priority. They view it as a luxury problem. And yet, there has never been a better time for SMEs to pay attention to inclusive entrepreneurship.
What are diversity and inclusivity?
Diversity is about visible and invisible differences between people. Examples of visible differences are skin colour, gender, and age. Religion, culture, values, and character traits are invisible differences. When your staff has a mixture of all these different traits, you have a diverse team.
Inclusivity addresses how we deal with this mixture of differences. Who gets to participate, or take decisions on business matters. Inclusion is about how we as humans interact.
More diversity = more success
McKinsey research has shown that businesses that practice inclusivity turn larger profits. They succeed better in several areas. For example:
Higher flexibility and productivity
The mix of employees with different perspectives enables teams to find creative solutions to issues faster.
Better understanding of the customer
A diverse team is a better reflection of society. Employees are more aware of the customers’ needs and wishes, and are better prepared to respond to what is going on in society.
Fewer staff shortages
Diversity in your team leads to broader social networks, which offer more and faster access to potential new, diverse employees.
A more positive image
Diversity and inclusion are part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR, or in Dutch: ‘Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen’). If the public knows you have a diverse hiring policy, they will have a more positive image of your business. You will get more customers, and more people willing to work for you.
From diversity to inclusivity
Diversity in your business brings many advantages, but it will not work without inclusivity. You and your staff need to come to clear agreements on diversity and inclusivity. You want to create a safe working atmosphere and work together as effectively as possible. Regardless of the differences, not in spite of them.
Saniye Çelik researches diversity and inclusivity in organisations. She explains: “When there is diversity, but not everyone embraces the differences, it may lead to more problems.” To prevent this, managers and executives have to take the first steps.
Step 1: raise awareness
If you want to work with diversity and inclusion, raising awareness is the first step. You can assess how inclusive you are by paying attention to a few aspects.
Take a look at the contacts in your phone. How many of them have a different ethnic or cultural background than you? And what about your employees? How different are they? As Çelik says: “This may lend you an insight into the social networks you operate in, and the opportunities you are missing. It is smart for entrepreneurs to actively search for connections with customers and entrepreneurs from other cultures. The entrepreneur of the future is cross-cultural.”
If you want to make your business more inclusive, analyse the various layers of your operation. Can people in a wheelchair access your business premises? Do you relate to your employees’ personal situations? How many people in your workforce with a different background to yours have influence on decision-making in the business? A few minor adjustments can make a difference to the mindset in your business.
Çelik uses the ‘InclusieScan’. This is a tool to measure how inclusive employees and managers think, feel, and act. You can take the InclusieScan by yourself or with your entire team or organisation. If you are interested, send an email to email@example.com.
Step 2: hire diversely
A second step towards diversity and inclusion in your business is taking a closer look at your selection and hiring processes. Managers and directors have a tendency to hire people who look like them. This happens unconsciously, which means applicants are excluded unintentionally.
There are 3 things you can do to prevent this as much as possible:
- Hire new staff through the networks of your own – diverse – employees.
- Train your managers and directors to select and hire diversely. The expert report document ‘Diversity in recruitment and selection’ issued by SER, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands, gives recommendations for the entire process: from drafting the vacancy text to selecting the candidates.
- Let a specialised recruitment agency do the preselection for you, so that the suggested candidates have different backgrounds and qualities.
Çelik concludes: “It is important to involve everyone in your organisation in this process. Don’t just target the minority, go for the majority. Everyone must be on board to make diversity and inclusion a success.”
There are several subsidies that can help you hire more diversely and inclusively.
Trouble finding personnel? Consider hiring foreign staff.