diverse employees standing in a row
From expanding your recruitment pool to minimizing unconscious bias, there are several ways to transform your hiring methods to build and foster a diverse team of employees. — Getty Images/LumiNola

Diversity is a hot topic in the workplace these days, but many small businesses are unsure of how to increase representation and create a more inclusive environment at their organization. While it often takes hard work and the courage to confront hidden biases, experts say the rewards of hiring a diverse workforce are well worth the effort.

“There’s some great data out there showing that when teams are diverse and inclusive, better decisions are made and businesses experience better results,” said Julie Kratz, CEO and founder of Next Pivot Point, a corporate training company.

For instance, a recent report from McKinsey & Company found that the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability, and a Harvard Business Review study found that companies with above-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.

Read on for six steps on how to hire and foster a diverse team.

Step 1: Create a D&I statement

What do diversity and inclusion mean to your business? Get your team together to clearly define these terms, then draft a diversity and inclusion (D&I) statement to demonstrate your commitment to celebrating a varied and inclusive environment.

“Many companies look at diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and just overall background, experiences and diversity of opinion,” said Lisa Marie Ringus, executive vice president of global client strategy and growth for 24 Seven, a staffing and recruitment agency. “Having a work environment that fosters inclusivity across all those spectrums is not only important for the business to grow, but also for employees to feel safe, included and recognized.”

For small businesses, your D&I statement can consist of a few bullet points that include what diversity equity and inclusion mean at your organization, why it matters and how you’re taking intentional action over time to commit to it, Kratz said. You can publish this statement on your website and include it wherever your corporate policies appear. “Your statement should be embedded in everything you do, from your core values to your mission statement to your hiring practices to how you manage performance management,” said Kratz.

[Read: Writing a Diversity and Inclusion Statement: How to Get It Right]

Step 2: Use inclusive language

Sometimes job postings contain hidden biases that could be turning off certain groups of people. “For instance, sports analogies like ‘hit it out of the ballpark’ are not very gender inclusive and might not be culturally inclusive for people who aren’t sports fans or aren’t American-born,” said Kratz. If you’ve written a job posting, have people of different backgrounds take a look. Ask them: Would you apply for this job? If not, identify the problematic terms and replace them with more inclusive language. There are online tools that can help you write inclusive job posts, such as Textio and TalVista.

Step 3: Expand your recruitment pool

If you’re having trouble finding diverse talent, it might be because you’re always recruiting from the same places. “It’s like fishing—if you fish in the same pond, you’ll get the same fish,” said Kratz. Consider recruiting from schools and universities with a diverse population, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). You can also ask diverse people within your organization or network for referrals. “Diverse people know diverse people,” said Kratz.

[Read: Looking for Diversity? How to Build a More Inclusive Small Business]

This CO— Blueprint episode offers ways to help you create a diverse and inclusive team environment.

It’s like fishing—if you fish in the same pond, you’ll get the same fish.

Julie Kratz, CEO and founder, Next Pivot Point

Step 4: Minimize unconscious bias

Despite our best efforts, unconscious bias—or learned prejudices that we are not consciously aware of—can often creep into the recruitment process. In fact, sometimes simply a person’s name, age or the university they attended can trigger biased decisions that eliminate them early on.

One popular technique that can help is “blind recruiting,” in which identification details such as name, gender, address and academic experience are removed from resumes so that candidates are judged on their skills. Online tools like Blendoor, GapJumpers and Pinpoint can help keep candidates anonymous.

To further eliminate bias, consider making phone calls for the first round of interviews, and hold off on checking social media profiles until later in the interview process.

Step 5: Set and measure goals

Just like you track sales and profits, you should set and measure goals for diversity and inclusion. Pick a few things to measure, such as gender and racial representation. “Consider pulling this data quarterly and holding leaders accountable for promoting diversity on their teams,” said Kratz.

You should also collect feedback from employees through regular employee engagement surveys, which should include some questions on diversity. “Start by taking an assessment of how employees feel today, then set some markers and goals going forward,” said Ringus.

Step 6: Offer training and host discussions

Make it a priority to educate and train all employees on how to foster a diverse and inclusive environment at your organization. “Every single employee at every level needs to be a part of that training,” said Ringus.

You can find many diversity and inclusion training courses online, such as those offered by Coursera, Udemy and Microsoft.

Also consider hosting discussion groups where employees can openly express their thoughts and opinions. “Ask questions like, ‘Why are we struggling with diversity here and what can we do to make people who are different feel more welcome?’” said Kratz. Of course, there might be those who feel outnumbered and hesitant to share their perspectives in a group setting, so consider also hosting one-on-one sessions to gain feedback. “Make sure all employees have a safe place to use their voice,” said Ringus.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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