This article was first published on the Found and Flourish Blog on 29th July 2020
As a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, a business strategist and an executive coach, it is very important for me to create and hold non-judgemental safe spaces for us all to explore how we can continue the conversation around how we build diverse businesses and ultimately create an equitable society. The purpose of my business Highfifteen, is to make people and brands focus on what really matters, in a safe and strategic manner.
A few weeks ago, I hosted a session with few F&F members where we covered key topics, that I talk about with all of my clients on the topics of D&I: courage, values and the importance of collaboration. There were tears, laughter, vulnerability and a lot of honesty, which was truly fabulous and necessary to see progress!
To me, we need to start with the end goal in mind! Developing a diverse strategy for your business does not involve only supporting the Black community now because of the anti-racist movement and global outcry we all witnessed and felt. The ultimate goal is not to be more diverse and inclusive actually; it is to create a real sense of belonging for everyone (our teams, our community, our clients, our partners etc). Vernã Myers, ‘the Queen of D&I’ to me, has trademarked the phrase: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’ And adding a deeper dimension to this looks like this: Belonging is when the DJ is playing your music, and you feel that you can dance freely and just enjoy yourself fully without the fear of being judged. Belonging is therefore when you can truly say, ‘I am here, I am seen, I am acknowledged, and I feel accepted here'. From a company’s perspective, embracing diversity and inclusion is putting out the message, ‘We see you and want you to be part of this.’ To offer an authentic sense of belonging is to add: ‘we want you to feel good about being part of this, we want you to feel at home.’
To achieve the above, it needs to start with you, the founder & business owner. You need to be courageous and ask yourself the hard questions because this route will be bumpy and is not for the weak-minded. Why do you really care about diversity, inclusion and belonging? Is it because you feel it is the right thing to do? Is it to make yourself feel better about social inequality? Is it because you want to attract more customers? Is it because you want to see real change in our society? Etc
Then take this opportunity to connect with your true self, revisit your purpose and what values drive you & your business. Try this exercise:
What 3-5 keywords/values would you use to describe yourself?
What 3-5 words/values would other people use to describe you?
Repeat the same for your business.
There should be some alignment in the words or phrases you choose for yourself and the business. And for all purpose-driven businesses (on this matter, all of our businesses are purpose-driven by the way), the key values that should absolutely be showing up are integrity and authenticity.
Integrity can only exist if you have truly defined your mission, i.e. how you are helping others and the world; it’s the concept of consistency between your values, your actions, your methodology, your KPIs, your principles, your expectations and your outcomes.
Authenticity is about your presence and how you are showing up. As a female business owner, it is likely that you already have explored your vulnerability (vs. most male counterparts). Now ask yourself, how do you show up from a place of discomfort and true honesty?
With the above redefined and nailed, you will be able to start developing ideas to make your business more diverse, and some of you have already done a lot 👏🏾! But guess what, it will take sustained action and a lot of perseverance and resilience to see real change. So, keep at it and make belonging an everyday business practice. E V E R Y D A Y. Start with incorporating diversity, inclusion and belonging to 80% of what you do, as a core value in your communication plan, in the selection of your partners, in your interaction with your customers, how you recruit etc.
And know that you will make mistakes! Just accept it and keep going to make more mistakes 😉. But if you do this from a place of honesty, authenticity and integrity, your customers, partners etc should remain engaged as you will have taken them on the journey with you! One tip: start to collaborate more with people who have a different lived-in experience than yours and who can contribute by sharing a new perspective on what you do. Broaden your business horizon! Yes, it is scary, but the rewards and learning outcomes will be so much greater and frankly more interesting for you.
And finally, believe that you can have an impact and contribute to real change in our society, on social media etc! As a small business owner or solopreneur, you have at least two superpowers: you are resilient and committed to trying new things all the time! This is no different! Just know that there is no quick fix, so draft a realistic plan that takes into account your mental, physical and emotional resources. If in doubt, work with a D&I consultant to guide your process!
Together, we can change the world!