Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Let’s call this what it is before we get started. First, despite the snappy title of the article, I want you to know that the advice contained here applies to absolutely all homogenous teams, whether your team is all White, all Black, all men, all baby boomers, all Millenials, all Ivy League graduates, all engineers, or whatever.
If everyone on your team fits in the same demographic – no matter what that demographic is – these are my suggested first steps for getting started with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a business growth strategy.
Second, let me be clear. From my experience talking with executives around the world, I can tell you a homogenous team is not a common situation anymore. It’s a corner case, but it’s still worth discussing, because when you have a team that shares one big marker of diversity, the first few steps toward organization-wide DEI can seem extra intimidating and opaque.
Here is how I recommend you get started.
- Don’t beat yourself up for what the reality is today. How do you talk about DEI as an authentic value when your team is all White? First, remember that diversity means so much more than what we look like. Certainly, changing the optics of your business and the demographic groups that you actively recruit are important to the long-term growth of your organization. But also, where are the existing, internal differences that you can already identify on your team to expand your definition of diversity as an organization?
For instance, what parts of the country are your team members from? How do they process information? What are their personalities like? What are their skill sets? How many different folks on your team are introverted versus extroverted, and how does your existing team show diversity of thought and experience?
Identifying these differences will help you start to expand what diversity means, beyond the big-three dimensions of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Diversity also means disability, skill set, thinking style, socioeconomic origin, family structure, veteran status, education history, religion, and more.
- Think about how you can diversify your suppliers. What catering companies do you choose for lunches? Who are you hiring for payroll and accounting, for legal advice, or other professional services? Who created the art on your walls? Who makes your thank-you gifts? Who are you tapping for freelance and contract work?
When you need a new marketing partner for a certain advertising campaign, do you select a marketing organization that matches the demographics of your team? Or do you go out and recruit organizations that can do the work equally well but are owned by more diverse founders?
Be intentional about the suppliers you use, and you will quickly expand your DEI footprint. Along the way, you can also use the new connections you’re creating to find great talent, diversify your network, and make a tangible difference in underrepresented and marginalized communities.
- Get involved with local universities that focus on underrepresented groups. More specifically, get involved with HBCUs and community colleges, which typically have a more diverse student population than other colleges and universities.
You have a specialty, right? You have expertise. So, use your skill sets, and pay it forward to other people. Mentoring, training, and coaching in your community allow you to create and expand your personal network, which serves to diversify your talent pipeline and your supplier ecosystem over time. That way, you’re not only making a real difference in the day-to-day lives of other people but also growing your organization’s potential for a more diverse team in the future.
- Remember, people don’t need to learn about DEI – or unpack their own unconscious biases – only when their first diverse team member comes on board. They need to do it as part of a future-ready workplace competency. Get your team started on a clear educational pathway, so they feel confident and capable of building DEI with you.
Incorporate DEI education into the flow of work, so your employees can expand their own definitions of diversity beyond the traditional race-based focus and realize that DEI is more than awareness-based training. Operationalized DEI means digital accessibility, disability inclusion, an objective hiring process, inclusive language, best practices for meetings, and so much more.
All of these things allow you to think differently about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a business growth strategy while you’re doing the long-term work to diversify your team and create an inclusive culture.
The takeaway is: You don’t have to do everything all at once. But it’s way past time that you did something. Just get in the game.
About the Author
Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement which offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. Their microlearning platform, Microvideos by The Diversity Movement, was recently named one of Fast Company’s “2022 World Changing Ideas.” With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available for pre-order now. Connect with or follow him on Linkedin to learn more.
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