Recent tension has flared up across the country about equality and biases. Diversity, especially workplace diversity, is once again one of the top-of-mind topics for businesses.
Jim Fitzpatrick and I got to talk about diversity in a recent episode of the Atlanta Small Business Show. We talked about three ways that business leaders can navigate this delicate issue.
1. Be more open
I think biases are widespread. That shouldn’t surprise people.
We all have biases. We all have issues because we’re human.
The key, however, is having empathy and understanding, as well as making the conscious choice to treat anyone crossing your path the way you would want to be treated.
Give everybody a chance, unless otherwise they give you a reason for it.
Jim had asked if there were times when biases are exactly what make people look for any minuscule reason to treat others differently.
That’s important to note. When I say “unless people give me a reason to treat them otherwise,” I mean if they directly threaten or hurt me or others.
As we’re all discovering, we have to force ourselves to think differently sometimes and veer away from our normal of being very tribal, of being focused only on what’s ours and what we’re used to doing.
If we can do that, our businesses will be better for it, because workplace diversity improves the experiences of both customers and employees, as Jim and I discussed.
2. Welcome new perspectives
A few dimensions exist on how diversity and inclusion affect customer and employee experiences.
In recent days, we have focused on ethnic diversity in our organizations, and I think that’s a good thing. Why? Because ethnic diversity leads to people bringing their different perspectives.
But diversity doesn’t have to be just about ethnicity. Diversity can be about having a variety of thoughts, of religions, of emotions and much more.
Having many ideas from different backgrounds and ways of doing things is helpful and is an asset. We don’t have to heed every idea out there, but having them gives us a perspective that can help us decide on what’s the best option.
It’s also important to remember that we are in a global world. We may be where we are – whether that’s New York or San Francisco – but people passing through our online showrooms can come from all over the world.
Owners of companies, me included, need to have more open minds, which will in turn grow our businesses.
3. Initiate safe discussions
Unfortunately, it has again become apparent that inequality is still rampant in our society, which is why I think it’s important to be open to addressing workplace diversity with our teams.
But what’s the best way to address this issue, given that staff may be looking for our leadership in this area.
The important thing to remember is to have that dialogue but be careful. A lot of leaders have made mistakes and have needed to step down as a result.
Understand that there may be some training that’s needed. Learn from best practices that are being used by fellow business leaders. Look at what’s effective and adapt that for your team.
Jim pointed out in our discussion that some leaders think it’s a mistake to open this can of worms; that getting the opinions of our staff about certain issues can lead to our companies being embroiled in entirely new arguments we didn’t want to be involved with in the first place.
We can’t avoid that sometimes, because the world we live in is so politicized. But that’s where setting parameters can enable us to effectively navigate the issues.
Make it clear to your team that there are safe spaces where you can talk about issues. However, when facing customers, be very careful about setting biases aside. We don’t know what sets people off.
In a business setting, my go-to practice is to always smile and say thank you.
You can view my full conversation with Jim here, where we also talk about opportunities in events despite the lockdown, becoming a celebrity CEO, and why most business owners should be thinking about how to do social media.