Many business owners are currently wondering how they might get more involved in the conversations about race and creating a culture that celebrates diversity. When conversations about race and the workplace arise, the first area of consideration is often hiring practices but it extends to so much more in a business than who you're choosing to employ.
In fact, racial tensions can crop up even in businesses that are very focused on equality. If you want a more diverse culture in your workplace, here are a couple of areas to focus on in addition to fair hiring practices.
Encourage Difficult ConversationWe cannot heal without acknowledging a problem and we can't acknowledge a problem if we feel uncomfortable talking about it. The only way to become comfortable is to create a forum to discuss employee concerns. Doing so can feel like you're opening Pandora's Box. So in addition to being willing to have the difficult conversations you need to be open to spending the time it takes to discuss things until everyone feels heard and respected. In the short run it may cause strife but that will be lessened if everyone acts with a goal for good communication guided by respect. In the long run, this will create a much more open environment where issues of all kinds will be discussed.
Host Events Everyone Will EnjoyIt may not seem like an area for problems, but if you are hosting after-hours activities for employees and you are not listening to the kinds of things that your employees want to do and rotating through their suggestions you could be accidentally favoring one group over another.
Make Room for Everyone at the TableDepartmental groups and multi-level meetings can help ensure everyone's voice is heard. On the other hand, when you segregate meetings based on obvious job duty or title, you may not be hearing everyone. For instance, if you're redesigning your website and only use input from marketing and not customer service or other departments, you may be missing some valuable input.
Recruit in a Variety of PlacesHow does your business recruit employees? Is it an ad in the paper or do you solely use online resources? How you recruit deeply effects your pool of candidates.
Ensure Your Target Market and Employees Resemble One AnotherIf you want to make sure that your employees understand your ideal customer think about recruiting for that person. Who you market to should be (at least partially) be represented among employees.
Use Stats and StoriesA common place where employees tend to be left out of the conversation is when management insists on solely using data for all arguments and decisions. While this may be a good source of information, employees who are always charged with finding stats that back up their arguments will likely at some point decide it's just not worth bringing issues to management. They may feel put off and unappreciated because while they may be witnessing the need for what they bring up, if they don’t have stats they won’t be heard. Instead, you want to find a happy balance between stats and stories, especially since the frontline will have more of the latter. And you want their voices to be heard.
Don't Make Employees Feel Like They Need to Fit InIt's important to have expectations and goals for employees but unless revenue depends on a specific personality, requesting that employees fit in to a mold negates the importance in having diverse backgrounds.
Finally, the largest problem most employers face when it comes to inequality is they stress the wrong things. They want existing employees to make new employees feel welcome. But what they don't realize is that it's generally not individual employees who must be forced to act a certain way. Most adult professionals want to treat colleagues fairly and want to have meaningful friendships at the workplace. Where most businesses fail is in not creating the kind of environment where everyone feels comfortable. Instead, they try to lecture employees on what to do and not do. What they should be looking at is the culture. They should strive to create a business that attracts more diversity because it’s a great place for everyone. Simply telling people to be more tolerant won’t create that type of atmosphere.
Christina R. Metcalf (formerly Green) is a marketer who enjoys using the power of story and refuses to believe meaningful copy can be written by bots. She helps chamber and small business professionals find the right words when they don’t have the time or interest to do so.
Christina hates exclamation points and loves road trips. Say hi on Twitter or reach out on Facebook.