It’s a common misconception that diversity and inclusion is an issue exclusive to large organisations that employ huge teams across varied corporate sectors. Big business garners a lot of attention because, from a historical perspective, vast groups of society have been excluded from the workforce. In reality, diversity and inclusion is a societal issue for all – a behavioural consideration of how we move through a globalised world.
Increasingly, large organisations are waking up to the inherent diversity and inclusion biases that exist not only in the workplace, but in the world – resulting in an influx of funding for initiatives such as training, development of diverse talent pools and structural reform.
For small businesses, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that diversity and inclusion is a job for big businesses; citing capital, size, location or industry as an excuse. However, SMBs account for 97 per cent of businesses across Australia, meaning diversity and inclusion is just as important, if not more so, within these organisations.
Small businesses are uniquely positioned to embrace a diverse and inclusive culture as they are able to facilitate less rigid routines and structures, leaving greater room for experimentation. Small businesses learn as they go, with the freedom to find out what works and what doesn’t. In big businesses, a barrier to growth can be attributed to a legacy problem where established organisations measure their success based on what or who has been before – which naturally suppresses the desire and capability for change.
With continually shifting political, social and economic structures – change is the only constant. Small businesses have an advantage over large organisations because they can adapt to change, having less, or even no expectations of how things should be done.
So how can small business owners not only keep up with but compete against large corporates? The answers are simpler than you might think.
When looking to grow your team, consider how the world sees your business. Everything from your website down to what your employees say contributes to your employer value proposition (EVP). For example, when writing a job advertisement, factors like requisite education, emphasis on travel and the tone used have a considerable impact. Nuances such as gender neutral wording and not overstating required experience or expectations can extend your pool of talent beyond a homogenised group.
For SMBs that aren’t hiring, inclusivity can be applied to everyday behaviours. Any member of a team can provide a diversity of thought, personality and life experience – inclusive practices can be encouraged by highlighting these differences and altering behaviour to nurture them. Whether that’s asking the quietest person in the room for their opinion or inviting dissent in team meetings, these small adjustments can make a tangible difference to team culture.
Keeping talented and skilled workers around is vital to a business’ success. Retaining talent from a diversity and inclusion perspective comes down to considering what it is that various people need from their working environment – essentially, what they need to feel secure and welcome. We’re on the cusp of embracing a largely millennial workforce who value company culture, flexibility, recognition and opportunities for growth above all else – so we need to welcome unique working conditions, or risk losing high potential staff.
Speak to your people – create a safe environment for workers to share their ambitions, concerns and preferred routines. Make this a space where diversity and inclusion can be freely spoken about too, grounding every discussion in respect. Accommodating the needs of your employees, and creating a culture where vulnerability is encouraged promotes a greater sense of belonging, and will keep talent around for longer.
For established businesses with legacy problems, there’s a risk of recognising high potential talent in a singular personality type or set of traits. Leaders look for replicas of predecessors who have been successful, falling into a cycle of promoting the same archetype over and over, leaving no room for diversity of thought or experience.
For small businesses, it’s crucial not to echo this behaviour by searching for learnt dominant traits represented in society. Consider how high potential talent can present in different personalities across different roles – and what tools you can give employees to advance and show their potential.
As Australia aims to establish itself as an innovation hub on the global landscape we need to support the 97 per cent of our workforce that is made up of SMBs and establish strong foundations across leadership, diversity and inclusion. Small businesses’ advantage is their agility – they have the power to set new standards to not only survive but prosper in an increasingly globalised economy.