Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute immensely to the country’s economy. There are currently over 5.5 million SMEs in the country, which account for 99.9% of all businesses and 61% of employment in the UK. These SMEs constituted coffee shops, florists, builders, and other product and service providers close to our communities. Because of how valuable SMEs are, it’s integral for business owners to adopt forward-thinking policies and prioritise their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.
Employees are demanding more from their workplaces, and although the benefits of DEI to businesses are well-known, less than half of employers have standalone DEI strategies. This may cause them to lose advantages like improved retention rates, productivity, and employee engagement. And with millennials currently comprising 50% of the country’s workforce and Gen Z predicted to count for 27% by 2025, businesses lacking diversity and inclusion may miss out on a key talent pool.
If you’re wondering how to improve DEI for your small business and future-proof your workforce in the process, these tips can help you get started.
Consult your employees
DEI strategies are a long-term investment, which means they require extensive planning. As such, leaders looking to improve diversity and inclusion must prepare considerably to ensure they are pursuing the right initiatives. These discussions may be more collaborative for small businesses: you can easily involve employees at every level of your organisation when reviewing your current protocols and determining points of improvement. Often, employees can provide insight that isn’t accessible to you otherwise. For instance, you may be granting parental leaves, but the lack of flexibility in work hours may be causing difficulty for parents who have little control over their children’s schedules. If you’re not a parent yourself, their feedback will help you make the necessary adjustments.
By investigating areas that are receiving a lot of attention or are missing something, you can more easily point out what needs to be improved. From here, you can define how DEI fits into your company’s values and financial goals. You can use these to identify objectives, establish key performance indicators, and set protocols for measuring success. Doing this allows you to monitor whether your goals are succeeding or failing over a specific period of time. Based on the progress you make in that period, you can adjust your DEI initiatives accordingly.
For this, you can take notes from Lidl. On its website, the supermarket chain publicly outlines its ongoing action plan for its long-term diversity and inclusion strategy, which includes providing opportunities for every employee to contribute ideas and feedback on company operations. In this way, it opens itself up to constructive criticism from those within and outside its company. If Lidl can do this on a large scale, it’ll be easy for you to do the same in your SME.
Adjust your hiring strategies
You can attract the best talent, lower turnover, and increase job satisfaction when your employees recognise the effort you put into your DEI efforts. One of the best ways to improve your hiring strategy is by writing better job descriptions. Articulating what you can offer a candidate, including a diverse and welcoming work environment, can invite them to apply. Do not use language that excludes specific demographics. For instance, you can list job openings for “salesperson” instead of “salesman.” It will also help to confine job descriptions to must-have skills instead of, for example, only hiring from certain universities. You can also mention your DEI initiatives in your job descriptions in the first place. You can do so by describing your dedication to diversity and inclusion and listing key benefits like parental leaves and childcare subsidies.
Finally, be intentional about reaching out to potential candidates. Involve people from diverse backgrounds in your hiring committee. Set up a referral system that allows your existing employees to refer acquaintances. You can even take after Sky UK, which actively offers roles to promising young candidates from minority backgrounds. They are aiming to have one in five staff from minority backgrounds by 2025. Consciously seeking out employees in this way ensures that your hiring strategies actively reach out to underrepresented communities.
Reflect inclusivity in your company practices
Your DEI strategies must also be reflected in how you treat your current employees. One of the best ways to be more considerate towards more diverse backgrounds is by implementing diversity training for workers. This educates employees on the value of DEI in the workplace and how they can reflect these principles in action. Through this, they can better communicate with coworkers and customers empathetically. As a result, you can cultivate healthy team relationships and better customer service.
You can also offer more inclusive benefits, like more flexible work schedules and paid time off for parents, students, or employees who need to care for their mental health. Diversify the holidays you celebrate to be more inclusive of those from different religions or cultures.
Some examples you can take after include UK beverage company Diageo, which has established Asian and African heritage as well as LGBTQIA+ internal networks to support their employees, and Vodafone, which offers all their female employees 16-week maternity leaves . By articulating consideration for diverse backgrounds, you highlight the importance of respect, acceptance, and recognition among your staff.
Diversity and inclusion are non-negotiables for small businesses in today’s world. Crafting and executing DEI strategies can help you reach out to broader talent pools and improve your work environment, elevating employee satisfaction and ensuring your SME’s long-term growth.