Can your small business have an effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program if you don’t have a dedicated DEI team or a standalone HR department? Even without a single DEI or HR person, the answer is a resounding “yes.” No matter what size your organization is, you can make DEI an important aspect of your company’s culture.
It’s easy to look at large businesses with dedicated DEI departments or programs and feel overwhelmed with starting something similar in your small business. However, it’s important to approach DEI from a scalable perspective, based on your organization's size.
Regardless of the size of your small business, you can cultivate a culture that’s defined by diversity, equity, and inclusion. You don’t have to have a dedicated DEI team, but you do need to start with a commitment to DEI, paired with strategic alignment and accountability.
Commitment: Cultivating a culture defined by DEI begins with a true commitment from the owners and leaders to respect diversity, ensure equity, and be inclusive.
Strategic alignment: Bring commitment to life with strategic alignment to DEI in addition to other business goals. As a result, business decisions can be considered through a DEI lens.
Accountability: Set clear expectations that all team members — at every level — are accountable for prioritizing DEI while also achieving business results.
Think about it like this: just like customer service is everyone’s job, so is DEI.
With commitment, strategic alignment, and accountability, DEI can become part of the everyday culture of any small business. This is true even if your team runs lean — a dedicated DEI team isn’t required to operate with DEI in mind. Think about it like this: just like customer service is everyone’s job, so is DEI.
When DEI becomes part of how your organization does everyday business, you’ll start to attract, and improve your ability to retain, employees who prioritize DEI. To further infuse DEI throughout the culture, implement DEI activities that don’t require a dedicated team. Then, empower team members at all levels to suggest and lead additional initiatives. Chances are that the program will rapidly expand organically through employee involvement.
Holidays and diversity observances are both great opportunities to increase visibility, awareness, and participation amongst your employees. Consider using these ideas to initiate the company conversation around DEI.
Share diversity observances - List key diversity observances on a shared company calendar. Assign someone to populate the calendar with recurring annual events and empower employees to add any others they might be familiar with.
Offer floating holidays - Adopt a DEI-friendly benefit by offering floating holidays. This involves providing a certain number of paid days off that employees can use for holidays they’d like to observe that aren’t included in the standard list of company holidays.
To further infuse DEI throughout the culture, implement DEI activities that don’t require a dedicated team.
Bolster your company’s efforts by building out resources that provide your employees with a framework of support around educating themselves about diversity, equity, and inclusion. By having resources like these, you can help your employees identify individual ways to help move the needle forward.
Build a DEI intranet page - Set up a DEI-focused intranet page that spells out the company’s commitment and provides related resources like articles, events, observances, and company initiatives.
Establish a DEI channel - Create a DEI-focused channel on Slack or whichever messaging app your company uses. Post diversity observances to raise awareness, and encourage employees to bring up any DEI-related topics they’d like to discuss.
Provide DEI training - Include key DEI topics, such as unconscious bias and cultural competence, in your employee training curriculum. You could bring in a facilitator for an on-site workshop or pay for employees to attend public workshops in their local area.
Share regular DEI updates - Give quarterly updates of the DEI progress in your organization. Hearing these updates from a leader at the organization can help build a culture of inclusion by building trust through transparent communication.
Sometimes all it takes to increase participation is suggesting a group activity. Providing your teams with team-oriented DEI activities can help your employees further incorporate DEI into your company culture.
DEI lunch-and-learns - Encourage employees to suggest and plan non-mandatory lunch-and-learn sessions on DEI topics they’d like to learn more about. They can present, or invite someone from the community to come in and speak.
Encourage DEI-focused off-sites - Encourage team leaders to schedule DEI-focused off-sites with their employees periodically. This could include things like visiting a local civil rights museum or attending a cultural festival or parade with coworkers.
DEI-focused paid volunteering - Encourage employees to give back while also boosting cultural awareness by allowing them to use a portion of their work-time each week or month to volunteer with an underrepresented population or DEI-related cause.
Sometimes all it takes to increase participation is suggesting a group activity.
These are just a few ideas to help you start incorporating DEI into the culture of your small business — they don’t require a dedicated team but still encourage participation from anyone. Assuming that leadership commitment, strategic alignment, and accountability are present, you might be surprised at how quickly a commitment to DEI becomes a defining characteristic of your company’s culture.
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