The business community has been talking a lot about diversity lately. In part, it’s because companies are beginning to pay attention to an interesting fact: study after study shows that diverse workplaces are hugely beneficial, driving productivity and profitability from the boardroom to the sales floor. But the research also shows that diverse representation in the workforce is nowhere near where it should be.
At Dell, we champion diversity and inclusion through a number of intentional initiatives. We know having people from various backgrounds weighing in means that our products are informed by more inclusive views, values and opinions. It also enables us to assemble engaged, motivated teams where everybody feels like they belong.
You might also have noticed that many of the major studies demonstrating the ROI of diversity focus on large, publicly-traded companies with thousands of employees. This makes sense — it seems only natural that these organizations should reflect a large demographic cross-section — but where does that leave small business? Well, it’s just as important for smaller businesses to think about diversity and try to represent their broader communities as it is for large enterprises. Small businesses can also enjoy the same benefits as big companies, provided they truly commit to diversity.
Smaller enterprises stand to gain a lot by embracing diversity as well, and as VP and GM of Small Business at Dell, I encourage business owners to welcome employees from all walks of life into their workforce.
What do we mean when we use the word “diversity”? We often talk about diversity in terms of gender — the number of male and female employees in an organization. That’s because women are still a minority group in many businesses.
There’s a simple explanation for why gender has traditionally been a powerful metric of workplace equality: it’s because most people identify as either a man or a woman. But it’s a flawed measurement, and the world is waking up to the fact that diversity isn’t merely about “male” and “female”. In truth, there are a range of other factors that make us diverse.
This relates to what we call “intersectionality” — the reality that identities do not exist in silos. Everyone embodies many different identities and communities: the umbrella of diversity covers differentiators including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others. Going forward, it’s important for companies to take a wider view of what diversity means.
Diversity and Small Business
The idea that small businesses don’t have the same need for diversity and inclusion is wrong — it can have a very real impact on the bottom line. Having a diverse team leads to increased innovation and creative thinking due to differences of opinion, experience and outlook. It also brings about better collective decision-making, and a capacity to identify and troubleshoot issues before they occur.
And diversity doesn’t just solve practical problems — it also opens new possibilities. Bringing together people of different backgrounds helps small businesses connect with channels, professional networks and communities they weren’t acquainted with before. Besides the obvious boon to business, diversity can contribute to positive brand sentiment amongst your consumers and other companies. It’s basically a win-win-win.
So I would encourage small business owners to not only think about how they can diversify their employee pool, but to seek B2B partners and collaborators that also consider diversity a priority. If you work with suppliers, make a point of choosing ones that are committed to diversity too, as they often outperform their non-diverse competitors and provide other types of value, such as access to new markets and customers.
At Dell, we make it our mission to work with diverse small businesses that are owned by women and minorities: not only does it allow us to live by our values, but we benefit from the insight and skill that these often-underrepresented demographics bring to the table.
What can you do to ensure that your company is a welcoming and inclusive space for employees from all walks of life? Or if you’ve already started, what are your next steps? Here are a few ideas:
● Call attention to unconscious bias without being accusatory or overbearing; treat it as something everyone needs to be aware of, and provide educational resources that employees can choose to access.
● Examine your hiring processes so that you can be sure your job postings are reaching a wide range of candidates, and check that the interview and review processes limit subliminal or implicit biases as much as possible. Identify and address your preconceptions — because you never know who’s going to be right for the job.
● Get in touch with organizations in your community that help women, minorities, people with disabilities and older individuals seek career opportunities.
● If your small business is on the supply side, connect with larger buyers that have supplier diversity programs, like Dell. Also, reach out to other diverse-owned businesses and partner with them.
● Establish an environment where employees collaborate on diverse teams and bring different skills to the table. In these situations, perceptions of “difference” and “otherness” usually diminish, and people often let go of unconscious bias without you having to do anything.
Diversity can have the same impact on small businesses as it does on larger enterprises — but with their smaller headcounts, more cohesive business units and nimble work cultures, I think they can potentially see success much more quickly and easily.
The future of our workforce is diverse, and embracing this future is not only the moral thing to do, it’s also a smart move for your company.