Diversity And Inclusion: Going Beyond Celebrating

celebrating diversity

If you’re in business in 2020, Black History Month is more than an occasion to celebrate diversity—it’s a vital time to reflect on what “diversity and inclusion” truly means for your company at every level.

Throughout my career in both the public and private sectors, I’ve come to gain a better sense of the immense structural challenges that minority groups face, and I’ve committed my organization to expanding opportunities for all prospective business owners. While my own experiences are vastly different than those of many minority entrepreneurs, I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with and learn from diverse leaders in the franchise space.

In many ways, franchising and entrepreneurship stepped up during the Civil Rights Era as a premier engine of wealth creation in African American communities. Local ownership meant locally kept profits and owners and managers who reflected their neighborhoods, understood and cared about them, and reflected that in their hiring and values. Awareness and celebration of this history is certainly warranted today, but for a business leader, celebration is an inflection point between the recognition of past accomplishment and the drive toward future success.

So how do we look beyond celebrating, so there’s something greater to celebrate a year from now and a decade from now?

1. Start with listening.

The best place to start when thinking about diversity and inclusion is from a place of humility and recognition that your own diversity of experiences and characteristics neither give you all the answers nor a full understanding of the diverse experiences of others. We all have blind spots—as organizations, companies and fundamentally as people.

Between your customers, your suppliers and your employees, however, you have a treasure trove of resources and ideas for how to make your company more diverse and inclusive. Realize that they won’t bring those insights to you on their own; you have to let them know you want to hear them. Beyond that treasure trove, keep an eye on cutting-edge thought leaders and creative competitors so that your learning doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. Make no mistake about it: Your market will only grow in diversity, and your customers and employees will only increase in their expectations that successful companies share and live those values.

Make listening an active part of your leadership and your company’s culture at every level. Change has to be both personal and systemic, so put systems in place for the safe and comfortable sharing of feedback and ideas, even in sensitive areas like recruitment, advancement and vendor selection. Train your managers on how to actively listen and keep an open mind, and encourage decision-makers to think about diversity and business with medium- and long-term visions in mind, not just tomorrow’s bottom line.

2. Identify challenges and opportunities.

Much like celebrating, listening is more meaningful as a prelude to action and as a commitment to not be content with the status quo. Identify challenges both big and small, and see in them the opportunities for improvement and change. Is there a lack of diversity among your interns and entry-level employees? Think about proactively distributing your calls for applicants beyond the mainstream sites, and build relationships with diverse colleges and their career officers and deans. Even small steps like this can make a big impact.

Some challenges in this space are much bigger and require both the courage of bold solutions as well as the practicality of incremental steps. For example, when it comes to minority business ownership, there is both a lack of awareness that these opportunities exist and a reality that access to capital can be more challenging. Working to educate, encourage and mentor prospective entrepreneurs and connecting them with local lenders are two ways we tackle these challenges in franchising, but like you, we, too, are always looking to take things to the next level.

3. Lead with transformative action.

In 2020, neither your company nor your industry can afford not to be a leader in diversity and inclusion. I’ve learned firsthand that diverse voices with differing backgrounds and perspectives are necessary for any organization’s success, and as leaders, we must ensure that all Americans are given an opportunity to succeed.

For example, in franchising, I’ve issued the challenge to make our sector the most diverse and inclusive in the U.S. economy by the year 2030 by launching a declaration other companies can join. What steps can you take to make your sector more diverse and inclusive as a whole?

Whether your industry has or will have a similar community of companies united for change, make 2020 the year you and your team start to lead on this topic. From small steps to very big ones, the transformation you can set in motion can be one that’s truly worth celebrating.

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