Feb 16, 2021

Diversity Training Tips for Small Businesses

In the 21st century, a diverse workforce is expected of companies of all sizes. While the expectations are higher depending on the company’s type and size, it’s never too early to start creating a diverse organization. In fact, as with most things, it’s often easier to determine your company’s culture when it’s smaller to avoid problems as the organization grows.

“Publicly held companies are now expected to prioritize diversity and inclusion because it is a proven competitive advantage according to a consensus of research,” says Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president at Coqual, a nonprofit think tank that produces research and programs to help leaders design diverse and inclusive workplaces. “In recent years, we’ve seen hundreds of CEOs publicly commit to D&I, and shareholders and investors are often demanding it.”

However, Kennedy says there is still plenty of work to do. It’s not enough to just hire a diverse workforce. The unfortunate fact is that many employees still face unwelcome environments.”

Diversity training is one answer, and it’s easy for bigger companies with HR teams to spend cash on this type of guidance and instruction. What about smaller businesses? How can they train their employees? These are some tips business owners shared with us for moving in the right direction.

Lead by Example

As John Maxwell would say, “Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way,” and this includes the topic of diversity training. According to Shanel Evans, a business and social media consultant who works with entrepreneurs, small businesses, and nonprofits, business owners and managers have to show support and solidarity for diversity and inclusion efforts and training. “No amount of training, events, and activities can be successful for staff morale without visible, authentic leadership starting from the top.”

Check Out Online Resources

In the middle of a pandemic, online training may be the safest, most convenient option—and it’s probably the least expensive choice as well. “As someone who helps women launch courses for a living, I, of all people, know that you can deliver quality diversity training on a budget,” says Tasha Booth, founder of The Launch Guild. “There are so many incredible online courses out there—some as brief as 60 minutes.” 

And a lot of these courses are free. Some examples include:

Consider Live Training

Sometimes, your employees may be more perceptive to live training. In fact, attorney Michael Coles, founder and president of The Coles Firm in Dallas, TX, says there’s no substitute for live training. “If the trainer is capable and engaging, the content will have greater impact than video content.” You may think that live training is also more expensive—especially when compared to free online courses. 

“To ease the cost for a small business, consider a solo HR consultant or a small law firm, both of whom likely charge less than their larger institutional competitors,” Coles advises. But he recommends doing your homework so you’ll know in advance what you’re getting. “Request a sample of their work, either audio or video, so you can see for yourself if the trainer has the style and content you really want and need.”

One person to research is Minda Harts, author of The Memo: What Women Of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table and a diversity workplace consultant and speaker who does keynotes, workshops, fireside chats, and virtual events. Some of her past speaking engagements include Amazon, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and Nike, but she works with organizations of all sizes.

Another person to research is Fatimah Pierce, Ph.D., founder and principal at Hickman Rose Strategies, which provides management consulting services for organizations, entrepreneurs, and government agencies. “Many employers continue to struggle with meeting the needs of their marginalized team members because they are relying on their own limited capabilities.”

However, if your leaders don’t have the knowledge or the capacity to make a meaningful change, she recommends seeking professional assistance.

“Hiring a consultant to facilitate conversations, provide training, assist with planning, and conduct formative and summative evaluations is a deliberate way to ensure that there is a comprehensive and cohesive approach with tangible outcomes,” Pierce explains. 

Go Beyond Formal Training

Training is more than watching a few courses or listening to a speaker or consultant. Shanel Evans (quoted earlier in the article and another person to research) recommends team building activities. “Diversity is not simply racial and ethnic background; it also understands staff members’ upbringing, thought process, etc.,” Evans says. “Team-building exercises encourage understanding and dialogue in a fun, organic way.’ 

As a Black business owner, Booth says it was important for her to provide a safe space for her employees to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. “When George Floyd died in May, I opened my Facebook group up for conversation and allowed my team and clients to share their pain, anger, and frustration,” she explains. “As a leader, diversity not only includes your business values and hiring practices—it also includes the type of environment you establish for your people.” 

When you have weekly or monthly meetings with your teams, she recommends making diversity an agenda item that the team discusses on a regular basis.

Here’s something else Booth does: “Every month, we choose a new charity to donate money to as a company.” The employees nominate a charity of their choice each month and then they vote as a group. “This is a great way to keep diversity top of mind, especially if you make a point to donate to a charity or organization that addresses diversity and inclusion.” 

About the author

Terri Williams
Terri Williams
Terri Williams is a writer based in Birmingham, AL, who specializes in business, technology, education, real estate, and personal finance – and dabbles in home improvement/décor. She has bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Bankrate, Investopedia, US News & World Report, American Bar Association Journal, Verizon, Realtor.com, Apartment Therapy, and several other clients you’ve probably heard of. Follow her adventures @Territoryone.

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