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How SMB leaders can create an equal and diverse workforce from day one

May 31, 2018

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How SMB leaders can create an equal and diverse workforce from day one

Sanj Bhayro, Senior Vice President, Commercial, Salesforce

Endless column inches and TV news stories have centered on workplace diversity over the past year. Whether you’re a global business with ten locations or a small business with ten employees, it’s an issue that can no longer be ignored.

A recent Salesforce report exploring the impact of equality found that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are almost five times more likely to feel empowered to perform at their best. Prioritising workplace inclusivity can not only result in a stronger team, but lead to increased sales, greater productivity, and better customer experiences.

Echoing this, research from McKinsey suggests that ethnically diverse companies are as much as 35% more likely to outperform their peers, and gender diverse firms are 15% more likely to do the same. For this reason ─ just like any other critical business issue ─ getting diversity right requires proper goal-setting, strategic planning and monitoring. For new businesses that are focused on scaling their business, it's important for the long term that diversity is then a core part of any growth plan.

Keep inclusivity front of mind when hiring
From the outset, SMBs can approach hiring with diversity in mind. Let’s be clear: diversity isn’t about quotas or passing on the best candidate for the job, but rather seeking out people that could bring new thinking into your business and working on ways for them to shine in your company. Conversely, workforces where everyone comes from the same background are limited by the very similar experiences employees share.

Diversity can be cultural, gender or skills-based, but the important thing is that you’re actively looking to bring a different kind of perspective into the business. Doing this effectively requires not just policies to reach a diverse candidate pool, but also regular assessment of your diversity numbers, to review the progress you’re making and identify where you can improve.

Understand the impact of unconscious bias
Our biases, which are based on past experiences, are almost always hidden or unconscious, but they can still come to the fore and influence our interactions in the workplace. One of the most common examples is promoting or hiring people based on similarities like background, group memberships or experience.

An important part of any commitment to equality is tackling the impact of unconscious biases. One the best ways to do this is through awareness and education, and there’s no better place to start than yourself. Effective leaders recognise when they’re relying on an impulse driven by unconscious bias and challenge it to make more informed decisions.

Online learning tools like Trailhead, for example, offer free and interactive learning paths that can train participants on the business value of having a diverse, inclusive workforce and the impact of bias. Unconscious bias training can also help managers understand just how it affects employee performance, and how to recognize and minimize it.

Use technology to keep track of progress
Good intentions, though a vital first step, aren’t enough – making real progress relies on measurement to provide proof that you are shifting the needle.

Technology can help you track how you’re doing by making employee engagement simpler and more consistent. By collecting and processing the data you have on employee demographics, you’ll be able to identify where you need to make changes and bridge gaps.

Challenge the meeting status quo
Being open to and sharing the ideas and thoughts of all employees from all backgrounds right across the business is critical for the success of any business. Some business leaders have addressed this by making meeting etiquette a part of their workplace culture, such as creating policies that give everyone a chance to participate and offer input in meetings. Others have banned the use of laptops, tablets and phones in meetings to ensure employees give their undivided attention to colleagues while they’re speaking.

It’s one thing to say a company is committed to diversity, but another to take actionable and meaningful steps towards achieving it. In organisations doing the latter, diversity sits at the core of their business - a key part of their culture that stretches far beyond HR initiatives. Businesses are powerful platforms for social change and if the UK economy is to thrive, all organisations, no matter their size, must work to ensure that they reflect the world around them.

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