Diversity and inclusion departments and initiatives have become a must-have at large corporations over the last few years, but equitable workplaces aren’t just for big companies. It’s important for small businesses to hire a diverse workforce and foster an inclusive atmosphere as well if they want to maintain top talent. Equity is a virtue in and of itself, but research also shows that diverse teams lead to more innovation and higher employee satisfaction.
Although small businesses don’t have nearly the same resources as the multinationals, they’re actually better poised to make diversity and inclusion part of their culture from the ground up. Business Insider spoke with leading experts to break down best practices for small businesses hoping to widen the universe of candidates they interview, hire, and retain.
In some ways, small businesses are better poised to build more inclusive workforces if they commit to it early, according to Stefanie Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s business school who studies corporate diversity efforts and hiring biases.
“We tend to bring on or hire people who [we] know, who are in our circle,” Johnson said. “But as companies grow, they tend to replicate that and then it gets out of hand. At that point, it’s hard to move the needle on diversity.”
If you focus on diversity and inclusion early on, it’s more likely to be a core part of your company’s culture and it won’t be something you have to rush to fix later on.
“I think it’s really important that it’s not ‘diversity and inclusion’ that’s siloed as an initiative, but that it’s interwoven into everything you do as an organization,” Manar Morales, president and CEO of the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance, a diversity research and consulting firm, said. Small business leaders should think about this in terms of who’s getting leadership opportunities, who’s getting constructive feedback, and whose voices are being heard in meetings.
Without a dedicated department for diversity and inclusion, diversity also needs to be a team effort, according to Morales. That means all employees should get unconscious bias training, learning not just what biases they might have but how to interrupt them.
“It’s more than just doing compliance training,” Morales said. The main key to success is accountability, she added. Employees should know that their diversity and inclusion efforts actually matter and they will be asked about them during their performance reviews.
All the diversity experts who spoke to Business Insider said that small business owners should widen and diversify their networks. One of the best ways to do this is to make connections with professional affinity groups or join conversations about diversity in your industry. For example, a small law firm might develop a relationship with a local Black attorneys association or women’s bar association.
This should be happening regardless of whether you’re currently hiring, Johnson added. “If only 31% of Americans are white men, then 90% of your LinkedIn network shouldn’t be white men,” she said.
When it comes time to look for candidates, take a step back and think about what the role really requires: It might be specific skills, but think about what kinds of transferable skills might come from other industries or what kinds of comparable experiences might also fit. And don’t get hung up on resume specifics. If you only look at candidates with Ivy League degrees, you’re less likely to find qualified candidates from low-income backgrounds, for example.
“You’re trying to take the widest possible aperture for what might be successful in that role,” said Felicity Hassan, managing director at Audeliss, an executive search firm dedicated to finding leadership roles for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ candidates. “It’s really about widening the gate rather than lowering the bar.”
Hassan recommended that hiring managers not get hung up on a particular vision of what a candidate should look like. “It’s more about what else they bring to the table,” she said. “Are they an innovator, are they someone who can motivate the team, do they have leadership skills?”
Once you draft up recruiting statements and job ads, make sure they’re as free of bias as possible by taking out any gender-specific pronouns or making sure that photographs include diverse groups of people. The National Center for Women & Information Technology has created a tip sheet with specific examples of how to write a job ad with minimum bias, and Textio offers tools to help companies create more inclusive language in their hiring and marketing texts.
Before you start the interview process, take a look at your company’s demographic hiring data, said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder and CEO of ReadySet, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.
“Assess who’s applying,” Hutchinson said. “And then look at who does well in the interview process and who gets hired.” If you find biases in the process, correct them before you start to bring new candidates in.
Everyone should go through the same process, whether they applied cold off of a job posting or they’re the COO’s best friend. This means “making sure you’re not changing the questions you ask from one person to the next person and making sure the questions map on to the job requirements,” Hutchinson said. Everyone who’s conducting the interviews should take notes right away so that their impressions aren’t filtered by candidates they see later.
When you’re narrowing down your candidate choices, “make sure that you’re not looking for someone who is a culture fit, but who is a culture add,” Hutchinson said.
Business owners should also be careful to avoid tokenizing people during the interview process, Johnson, who’s studied the ways that biases affect hiring, said.
“One really key easy thing to do is every time you’re hiring for a job, make sure you have a diverse candidate slate,” Johnson said. “Having just one person of color makes that person appear like the diversity candidate. But when you have two, it increases their odds of getting hired exponentially.”
Finally, remember that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace shouldn’t be a chore. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business.
“It boils my blood to hear people talking about diversity and saying, ‘But we didn’t want to compromise on the person we hired,'” Hassan said. “If you feel like there’s a compromise then you’re just not doing it right.”