Group of coworkers has discussion in inclusive environment.
One way you can commit to being more inclusive is finding opportunities to work with diverse business partners, vendors and communities. — SolStock/Getty Images

Beyond being the right thing to do, creating an inclusive company can significantly improve your business results. Diverse and inclusive businesses outperform their homogeneous competitors in innovation, employee retention, talent recruitment, profit and many other business metrics that lead to long-term growth.

So, how can you create a more inclusive company for your employees and your customers? Here are some positive steps your business can take to promote inclusivity.

[Read more: Top Diversity Executives from 3M, KPMG and Fidelity Reveal Inclusivity’s Return on Investment]

What does it mean to be inclusive?

Cat Colella-Graham, founder and managing partner at Cheer Partners, said inclusivity is expansive. “An inclusive culture means creating a sense of belonging for everyone, no matter the level, from all backgrounds. Intentionally sourcing candidates that bring different points of view and then creating parity in share of voice is incredibly important. Respect is foundational, as is encouraging debate and stress-testing ideas to break consensus bias. Allow everyone to drive best results together.”

Inclusivity is often mentioned in the same breath as diversity. However, diversity and inclusion are not the same. Inclusion is more specifically the policies and procedures an organization implements to integrate everyone in the workplace. The goal of inclusivity is to make each customer and member of your team feel accepted, comfortable and able to share their ideas and thoughts without hesitation.

For some, it helps to think of diversity as the “what” and inclusion as the “how.” Diversity focuses on creating a workforce with people of all backgrounds; inclusion is a measure of the culture you create that allows this diverse workforce to thrive.

True diversity and inclusivity are more meaningful than posting a few messages on social media. “Brands must be wary of tokenism, stereotypical portrayals and cultural appropriation, which can come across as ignorant, patronizing and artificial, thus achieving the opposite of the desired outcome; in fact, these will often highlight the differences between groups, instead of fostering an atmosphere for a more inclusive and assimilated society,” wrote Chioma Onwutalobi, the founder and CEO of SCO Group in her essay, “Beyond Buzzwords: Positive steps businesses can take to promote inclusivity.

Be intentional

Small business owners must be purposeful about how you create an inclusive business. Do your research: Take the time to learn about local initiatives, businesses and products created by people from various backgrounds and ongoing support efforts. Then, start somewhere, said Colella-Graham.

“Even if you never intentionally did anything until now, you just need to start. Focus on three to four things you can act on, and then amplify. It’s far better to commit long term to a few things you can do well and build from there than to spray and pray or focus on carefully curated external content,” Colella-Graham told CO–.

A few ways to get started, Colella-Graham said, are to establish a Diversity Council, or appoint someone as Diversity Champion to educate, celebrate and audit your business practices. Look into creating employee resource groups or affinity groups, or implement an inclusivity training curriculum. Start at the very foundation of your business and examine pay parity practices and diversity in leadership, which both may take time but are critical to long-term inclusivity.

Committing to inclusivity is an ongoing process that won’t happen overnight. “Be particular about which networking events you go to or who you engage with on social media. Over time, diversity in the workplace will become more and more effortless, but that will only happen if we take active steps to foster inclusion and acceptance right now,” Onwutalobi told CO–.

Prioritize working with diverse partners and employees

As Onwutalobi notes, it’s easier for large companies to put resources behind diversity initiatives, ramp up hiring efforts, or invest in leadership programs or inclusive culture workshops. For small businesses with fewer resources, one way you can commit to being more inclusive is to look for opportunities where you can work with diverse business partners, vendors and communities.

“For example, if you’re the owner of a small business, your in-house team might include people who are very similar to you, but when you have the opportunity to work with contractors and freelancers, that could be a window for you to work with more diverse people and reach out to people from communities other than your own,” said Onwutalobi.

Lisa Vasquez-Fedrizzi, managing director at Cheer Partners, agrees that the first investment a small business owner should prioritize is its people. “Reach out to industry leaders in their networks to see who can be brought in for a skill-up lunch-and-learn session to help drive the conversation and help create internal initiatives,” she suggests. “Create a DNI committee who can prepare a calendar of events, find newsletters you can share, research alumni associations and other places from which you can recruit talent. Sponsor social movements that are important to your employees and the foundation of inclusivity.”

Check out this episode of CO— Blueprint to learn how and why it makes sense to create a more diverse and inclusive business model.

As a leader, business owner, and member of the community, inclusivity starts with you.

Participate in an initiative

Another good option is to work with a campaign or initiative that empowers members of underrepresented communities.

“There is a new call for individuals and organizations to pledge to committing a percentage of their expenses to underrepresented communities; a percentage of shelf space for products from these communities; or a percentage of contracts given to talent from these communities,” wrote Onwutalobi.

The 15 Percent Pledge, for instance, asks retailers to commit 15% of their shelf to products from Black-owned businesses. Here are some other options you might consider participating in:

  • #BlackbBizChallenge: Businesses and individuals can take this challenge on the second day of each month by making a social media post pledging to spend more money on Black-owned businesses/service-providers and reminding their friends and followers to do the same.
  • National Black Business Month 2020: August 1 will mark the beginning of Black Business Month, which aims to recognize the important role that Black businesses play in Black communities, and indeed, the society at large. For more information, visit www.blackbusinessmonth.
  • Open to All: this campaign is a “national nondiscrimination campaign based around the idea that everyone should be welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, immigration status, religion or disability.” Sign the petition and join the campaign to create an inclusive business space for customers and employees alike.
  • Sign the I ACT ON Pledge: this is a commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace hosted by the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative. This pledge provides four concrete steps CEOs and business leaders can take to foster a more inclusive business.

Vasquez-Fedrizzi warns that an inclusive culture isn’t just about supporting one-off campaigns. “An inclusive culture should not be solely focused on celebrating months, but on the conversation on how to be inclusive and then putting those motions into actions,” she said.

[Read more: 6 Things Every Boss Should Do to Build an Amazing Company Culture]

Build an inclusive culture

As a leader, business owner and member of the community, inclusivity starts with you.

“Create a respectful environment and educate your leaders. When you build your committee for diversity and inclusion initiatives, be sure to remember that employee engagement problems among underrepresented employees should be brought forward to discuss, review and make organizational changes to address those issues,” said Vasquez-Fedrizzi.

“Everyone’s voices should be heard — this is fundamental to create an inclusive culture. Support your employees in bringing their full selves to work. Walk the halls or having virtual coffee sessions with your employees — this will be key in knowing whether or not you are on the right path for an inclusive environment.”

Onwutalobi says that the importance of attending diversity workshops and training – as well as offering these resources to your team – cannot be overstated. “No one knows it all, and these can provide you with important tools that you can go on to implement within your organization. Remember, encouraging a workplace culture of inclusion is good for people, good for business, and good for society.”

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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