You can be part of the change. Diversity and inclusion is not an initiative limited to big organizations. Solopreneurs and small businesses can be inclusive too.
We have the ability to create systemic change. This starts with the very systems (community, industry, team, and family) we participate in daily. Think about any other habit you’ve improved in your life. You know change is not an overnight process. It’s not accomplished with a checklist, but instead through daily choices.
Change requires intentional effort. Effort in our personal practices and relationships. It is important to not make assumptions or decisions based on singular interactions. Talking to, befriending, or working with one Black person is not indicative of every Black person’s experience or beliefs. This may sound obvious, but I learned the hard way. I didn’t understand why some of my friends didn’t view certain topics similarly during discussions. It was because their experiences were different from each other.
Inclusion is diverse and includes multiple Black voices. What can you do? How can you be a leader of change?
Many times founders create a business to solve a personal problem. There is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when we create a solution that only includes and benefits people who look like us. We miss out on serving people who don’t look like us and who could benefit as well.
Have you considered how difficult it has been for Black women to find makeup that matched their skin tone? Fenty Beauty recognized the need in the market and became a leader in the beauty industry for offering a diverse range (50 skin tones) of makeup. Fenty pricing also made the makeup accessible to customers. Fenty’s success led to major brands expanding their offerings.
Did you know cameras don’t photograph Black people the same as white people? Did you know there were soap dispenser sensors that didn’t recognize darker skin tones?
“The dispenser used near-infrared technology to detect hand motions, an article on Mic read. The invisible light is reflected back from the skin which triggers the sensor. Darker skin tones absorb more light, thus enough light isn’t reflected back to the sensor to activate the soap dispenser.”
(Source: Reporter Magazine)
It is easy to take things for granted and unintentionally exclude others. This is why it is important to be open to learning from people with different backgrounds. How can you make sure your products and services serve Black people? Do you include them in the development process? This can be done through market research, customer feedback, and the contractors you hire.
Does your marketing attract Black customers? People naturally gravitate toward people who look like them. This is why diverse marketing campaigns are so powerful. They allow people to feel seen and important.
Do images on your website and social media reflect the customers you serve? Is your marketing copy inclusive? Do you actively seek to understand Black cultural references, history, pop culture, and holidays?
Black culture is rich and more diverse than what you see in mainstream media. Several things I didn’t learn until I was in my twenties include Black Wall Street (Tulsa, OK), Stevie Wonder version of Happy Birthday which most of my friends sing at celebrations, and that the slang term “Becky” is not positive.
In my thirties, imagine seeing a small business creating “Becky” merchandise because of Beyonce’s song “Sorry”. I immediately reached out to the founder and explained the reference and the merchandise was removed. This happens frequently when businesses try to capitalize on pop culture but don’t understand the context and associated history.
How are you inclusive in your industry to people who don’t look like you? We have more shared things in common than not. Will you agree with all views and opinions? No, but we don’t have to agree with anyone 100% of the time to learn from them and grow.
Do you follow Black leaders, professionals, and creatives online to listen and learn?
- Instagram favorites: Myleik Teele, Necole Kane, Madhi Woodward. Because of Them
- Twitter favorites: Eunique Jones, Sakita Holley, Web Smith, Cedric Alexander, Dan Runcie, Alex Wolf
Do you refer and support Black entrepreneurs?
- Dondrea talks about Money Mindset, READ.
How can you use your platform to highlight Black leaders in your industry? Do you ask them to be on your podcast? Do you ask them to speak at events about their field of expertise?
- Women Who Excel podcast: Michelle McKinney, LISTEN.
Do you invite Black peers you know and don’t know to events, Slack groups, Masterminds, and private communities? Don’t assume they know, be the invitation.
Including Black peers isn’t a checkbox on an event list. It’s not one Black person on the panel. It’s not asking a Black person to talk only about Diversity when they have more experience to offer. Do you see them for who they are? Do you ask for their opinions and feedback? Do you implement their suggestions and give credit accordingly?
Several years ago, Black women candidly shared their stories with me about being small business owners. Imagine being fearful of sharing your picture on your business page because you’re concerned people won’t hire you? Imagine only doing a specific type of work because you’re afraid people won’t hire you to highlight Black people. Imagine wearing your hair a specific way to fit in. Hearing their stories made me at loss for words. I had never considered they felt the need to hide who they were in order to fit in.
When any of us feel like we have to hide who we are it chips away at our soul. Our limits our creativity, work suffers, and our relationships are not as rich. Imagine how much more innovation and creativity the industry would have when Black people are able to show up as who they really are?
Actively seek out and hire vendors, freelancers, and independent contractors from the Black community. Having a diverse network of vendors helps you build a better and more sustainable business.
- What can you learn from each other?
- How can you improve your processes by working together?
- What paid projects can you collaborate on?
- Do you leave reviews to help them gain more business?
Actively recruit, hire, and promote Black employees, executives, and board members. To have a truly diverse company culture you need to have Black people at all levels.
If you don’t have Black people applying to work for your company, ask why.
- Is it because they don’t want to be the only Black person on your team? Being the “only” person in any situation is challenging.
- Is it because your marketing isn’t inclusive and welcoming? Many times employees are passionate about the brand. If your customers aren’t diverse then it will be harder to attract diverse talent.
- Where are you recruiting? Are you including diverse universities and colleges? Are the job boards part of diverse industry organizations? Do your recruiters value diversity and inclusion?
- Have you asked Black peers to share your post with those they know may be a good fit?
- Is the language of your job description inclusive?
- Does your team page include black team members?
Having Black team members creates a diverse culture rich in experiences, innovation, and thought. Include them in meetings and committees. Encourage them through mentorship. Empower them to take on leadership roles.
If you already have Black team members it is not their responsibility to share their experiences or tell you how to be anti-racist. As a leader, the onus is on us to learn. There are numerous resources available.
Go out of your way to stay current with events. As a leader, it is our responsibility to be in tune with our team and what impacts them. When a team member experiences trauma whether individually or collectively (via community) it is exhausting. You don’t need to have the perfect words to say, but it is important to acknowledge it. When you acknowledge the event you are telling them that their well-being is important to you. Offer support, space and time to grieve, and an ear to listen IF they want to talk.
For diversity and inclusion to be effective in business, it starts with our leadership. Who are we? What are our beliefs? Do our actions match our words? This is important because what we believe in our hearts is reflected in our words and actions. Everyone in our circle of influence is watching our actions to see if they match our words. We establish and build trust in our ability to lead when our actions match our words.
Most of the time we have the comfort of being surrounded by people who look like us. In our homes, communities, and workplace. What about Black children who are the only one in their class, Black families who’ve moved into the neighborhood, or the new Black employee who just joined the team? How do you make them feel welcome? Do you go out of your way to get to know them as individuals or do you keep it superficial?
Growth starts with being open to new ideas, experiences, and thinking big.
- What Black influencers and thought leaders can you follow online? I recommend following people who aren’t part of pop culture (artists, actors, athletes). Black culture is so much more diverse than what is promoted in the media and celebrity spotlight.
- What books can you and your family read? This is a children’s book list Val Geisler created. I added book titles shared from my friend Martine Severin.
- What events or cultural experiences can you participate in? Museums, festivals, jazz concert, church, spoken word are ways to start. If you are worried about being the “only” white person there imagine how Black people feel everyday. I’ve been the “only” person multiple times and have always been welcomed. When you attend, just like any other learning experience, be a participant instead of a tourist.
- What documentaries and foreign films can you watch?
- Who can you invite to join your church small group, your non-profit board, your PTA group? Being active in a diverse community where you’re more likely to have different conversations helps you grow in understanding of Black culture. Understanding is key when leading in the community and your business.
Leadership requires personal reflection, uncomfortable conversations, and emotional labor. I’ve been blessed to have friends my entire adult life who’ve loved me inspite of our differences and my missteps. I’ve been fortunate to have colleagues whom I”ve learned from and grown with.
When I was fresh out of high school (99% white rural community) I worked with Joe. One morning at work we were talking and I was trying to find the right word. He looked at me and said “We’re Black.” His directness eased the situation. We became good friends and I attended his wedding 5 years later.
Shared conversations and experiences have allowed me to show up better in my relationships both personally and professionally. It’s these encounters and relationships that have influenced me to be who I am today. I love my friends and colleagues. It is why I’m so passionate about the Black community.
Black people want to be seen and appreciated for who they are just like you and me. Where they are from, where they live, how they speak, and how they dress don’t define what they are capable of. I encourage you to be a leader and build bridges between customers, peers, team members, families, and communities.
If you have questions, I’m happy to share experiences and resources that have helped me grow. I still say awkward and wrong things. But I’m committed to learning, loving, advocating, and showing up to do the work.