“It's work to be the only person of color in an organization, bearing the weight of all your white co-workers' questions about Blackness.”
These are the words of Austin Channing Brown in her spectacular book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.
I hope Austin wouldn’t be upset if I added my spin on this important quote.
Not only is it work (annoying, everlasting, and oppressive work) to be the only person of color in an organization...
It’s work to be the only queer person in an organization, bearing the weight of all your cis, straight co-workers’ questions about your sexual orientation.
It’s work to be the only disabled or chronically ill person in an organization, bearing the weight of carrying out tasks without the right accessibility tools.
It’s work to be the only woman leader in an organization, bearing the weight of all your colleagues’ stereotypical assumptions and inherent biases about your ability to perform your role.
As a Black woman business owner, it’s my duty to create a work environment that prioritizes diversity AND inclusivity. (Because it’s not enough to create diversity just to say you’ve done it. You have to EARN diversity with inclusivity. You need to ensure that your workplace is a place where all your team members can be fully Black, fully Latinx, fully trans, fully themselves, without barriers to advancement or fear of judgment.)
I believe it’s time for all of us to take responsibility for the communities we are creating with our businesses. We must all ask ourselves, “Is my business contributing to the progression of our society, or is it doing the opposite?” And in the world we’re living in right now, this question is more important than ever.
If your business is not becoming more diverse, it is becoming less relevant. Celebrate diversity and intentionally foster it in your personal life and your business, and you’ll not only stay relevant and competitive, you’ll also watch your impact and profits grow.
Here are 3 steps you can take towards creating and fostering a diverse, inclusive environment in your business.
1. Learn it.
You should not start hiring BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ or members of other systemically marginalized communities before embracing and participating in the continuous work of creating a safe and inclusive workplace. And that begins with educating yourself.
We all have to start somewhere. If you’ve never considered diversity and inclusion as priorities in your business: 1) you are very late, and 2) it’s time to get to work. According to Harvard Business Review, “It is far easier to build a diverse organization from the ground up than to diversify a large, complex, homogeneous machine.” In other words, if you don’t diversify now, you’ll likely diversify never.
Be humble and get the education you need. Do some research. If you don’t know where to start, hire someone whose job it is to advise you on ways to make your business diverse and inclusive. Invest in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training for your team every quarter. Put your time and money where your mouth is.
Here are a few options for experts and courses you can invest in to help you:
2. Launch it.
Once you’ve taken the step of learning how to maintain diversity and inclusion in your business, it’s time to hold yourself accountable to your new stance.
Create a plan to announce to your team, clients, and wider community that diversity and inclusion are top priorities for your business and share exactly what you plan to do to create a diverse and inclusive environment for your staff and for your clients. Add specific metrics to your plan so your efforts can be measured. For example, you could commit to having 35% of your team be people of color within two years or having at least 25% of your leadership team identify as part of a marginalized community (Black, POC, disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+, etc.). You could even create an affinity group for your Black or POC team members and provide them with a fixed budget to effect change within your company.
By making this announcement, you are putting yourself in a position to be held accountable, which means that you’ll be forced to back that statement up with genuine action. It goes without saying that if you make this statement and do not make any real progress, you’ll likely be called out for it. And in the world of social media, that kind of backlash can be damaging to your reputation and to the reputation of your business. But that’s a risk and responsibility you’ll have to be willing to take on if you’re really ‘bout this life.
One effective way to announce and reinforce your shift towards diversity is by creating content that includes the experience of marginalized communities. In order to bring more diverse people into your audience, you must do the work to create an environment in which they will feel seen, heard and included.
For example, if your regular content (including written posts, social media posts, podcast episodes, and videos) speaks only to the experiences of the white members of your audience, then this will continue to exclude diverse members of your community. One way to change this is to invite women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, disabled people, and other diverse audiences to share their stories on your platform (this also means that you will have to do the work to make sure they are protected from any racist, sexist, homophobic or any other type of backlash from members of your community).
3. Live it.
You’ve done the research, you’ve created your plan of action, and you’ve got content going out that supports your new intention. Now it’s time to implement real, tangible changes in your business AND in your personal life.
Take a good, hard look at your current team members. Schedule 1:1 sessions with your diverse team members to find out what their experience has been at your company. Ask them how you are doing and what can be improved. Read books like Minda Harts’ Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace to better understand how you can create a more equitable environment for the diverse members of your team.
If you don’t have any diverse team members, it’s time to hire some. You may need to update your hiring process to reduce biases and ensure that you’re hiring from a diverse pool of candidates. (I’ll have a future post specifically about creating a bias-free hiring process, so be on the lookout for that.)
Hiring a diversity consultant can be very helpful, but a few steps that you can take to shift your hiring process right away include:
adding a diversity and inclusion statement to your job descriptions
posting your open jobs on hiring websites geared towards people of color and other diverse audiences (such as with career offices at Historically Black Colleges)
including a person of color on your hiring team who is involved in making decisions on which candidates move on to the next step
requiring everyone on your team involved in hiring to learn about unconscious bias.
Fostering diversity and inclusion doesn’t end with your team. To break down your inherent biases, you have to start inviting diversity and inclusion into your personal life as well. Studies have found that friendships with queer individuals were effective in reducing sexual prejudice, and white participants’ friendships with Latinos or African-Americans reduced their implicit biases toward those groups.
So, start expanding the diversity within your personal network by attending events where you know there will be a mostly diverse audience, follow diverse experts on social media (and begin conversations with them), ask diverse colleagues if you can take them to lunch (and not to pick their brain), go to dinner in a diverse neighborhood, and set up playdates with the non-white kids at your child’s school. If you want to create diversity within your organization, you will have to go out and meet a diverse group of humans, somewhere in the world beyond the borders you’ve built up.
This is more than just appeasing people who want to see more diversity in your business. This is more than having some non-white faces in your team photos. This is about making your business better by expanding and diversifying your reach, coming up with creative solutions with people from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic upbringings, and playing your part in making the world a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place.
Now, I want to hear from you — what have you done in your business to create a more inclusive space for your team and your clients?
Or, what are some businesses you love that have made it their mission to promote diversity? Sound off in the comments below!