How does the world see you? And who does Google say you are?

I have something uncomfortable to confess.

My website feels very 'white', doesn’t it? And no, I’m not talking about the abundance of white space around the text.

I mean, you know … 'White'.

In this article:

It’s been a growing suspicion of mine for a year now, and it irritates me. I’m talking about the photos of people who appear in the stock images used in the blog articles that I send to my clients.

Am I saying my website could be racist? No, I’m not going the bring out the ‘R’ word here, but I’ve discovered my own unconscious default choice of stock images is (was) White.

And that’s a little embarrassing because it certainly doesn’t reflect the demographic makeup of my friends, clients and supporters, or the people I want to sell my financial expertise to. And part of my expertise needs to be making it equally accessible to everyone I want to serve.

So how did I miss this growing unconscious homage to a White preference for my stock images? (I feel icky just typing that)

I simply didn’t see it.

I’m a white male and I live in a bubble where my image selection process never included the opinions of others more diverse than me and my worldview. Now I wonder how many customers, who didn’t see themselves reflected in my choice of website stock images, may have passed me over and purchased their financial advice elsewhere? Yikes!

So what's a small business to do?

If we want to better reflect the community from where our customers and staff are drawn, we need to improve how we think about diversity and inclusion as deliberate business tools, to help us make better decisions and get closer to both customers and team members alike.

Diverse and inclusive environments win more.

All the research data points to the fact that diverse and inclusive work environments outperform non-diverse workplaces.

Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. commented, “The most innovative company must also be the most diverse. We take a holistic view of diversity that looks beyond the usual measurements … Because we know new ideas come from diverse ways of seeing things.”

So how does this relate to a small business?

  • Out-thinking the competition.

Strong Small Businesses are nimble and responsive, but we’re also inherently more creative than our lumbering bureaucratic corporate cousins.

  • But with encroaching commoditisation and receding margins in our own markets, our biggest competitive advantage is increasing our ability to continually out-think our competition. 
  • Many of today’s complex solutions to equally complex problems are out of reach to many Small Businesses only because they just lack a framework to access full diversity of thinking in their teams.

Today a single business leader cannot embody the breadth of complexity needed to respond to many of the layered and interwoven complexities that are modern life and business. Only an inclusive team could do that.

So where do you start?

  • Separate concepts but with equal importance.

The mistake many people are quick to make is thinking diversity and inclusion are one in the same thing, rather than separate aspects (interrelated, yes) that require separate approaches.

Diversity without the activating force of inclusion won’t get you where you need to go and create that sense of belonging.

Simply put, diversity without inclusion is a wasted opportunity.

It’s not just about diversity in your teams; it’s about leveraging the teams ‘diversity-of-thinking’ by creating a deliberate and obvious culture that recognises and promotes the full inclusion of all its team members.

Diversity of thinking can only be achieved when there’s a level playing field for all talent with equal participation, free of favouritism, threat or retaliation.

Leaders create the environment

Diversity of thinking thrives best in an environment that values participation without favouritism, where people feel valued and included for their unique self and where social bias, intolerances and discrimination is recognised for the low value it creates. Sadly this is not a naturally occurring phenomenon in many businesses and therefore has to be actively cultivated by leadership.

  • What does an Inclusive leader look like?

Cultivating diversity of thinking requires a leader to alter their own behaviour modelling and their surrounding workplace, to suit the needs of their diverse talent, setting the expectation of what constitutes inclusive behaviour and team culture, and what doesn’t. This also includes providing sufficient time, resources and training for middle managers to understand the process (and upskill as needed) too.

  • What’s required from a leader?

Inclusive leadership is more deliberate and effortful. Deloitte research reports, when an inclusive leader and culture is present, it produces a +70% increase in teams functionality. Interestingly, this effect is even stronger for minority group members.

Going beyond basic courtesy, an inclusive team culture includes three minimum elements:

  1. Participation without favouritism promotes equitable participation and respect where each participant is deliberately and openly recognised for their uniqueness and the particular perspective they bring to the team.
  2. A sense of connectedness to the group encourages personal ownership of the group and better engagement with the problems it’s designed to address.
  3. The flow-on effect is team members feeling safe to speak, free of embarrassment and retaliation. When a team reduces its communication friction, it increases its capacity to maximise ‘diversity-of-thinking’.

The right thing is the clever thing; grow an inclusive team culture.

Actively modelling an increasingly inclusive culture, within the diverse members of your team, promotes the needed ‘diversity-of-thinking’.

The research shows when an individual feels well included this can translate into increased team effectiveness, including:

  • Increases in team performance of +17%
  • Better decision making +20%
  • Enhanced collaboration by +29%
  • An increased ability to identify and reduce risks by +30%

Environment dictates peak performance.

The next frontier for successful Small Business leaders is to learn how to perfect environments where people feel valued (not simply tolerated as part of a diversity quota) and where a sincere sense of belonging to a group and its mission is cultivated.

We’ve found when culture is matched with a diverse set of respectful people who have a clear framework outlining how to relate to and value each other, it reduces friction and complexity.

People know what to do, what’s expected, where we’re going and how we intend to get there. Our team becomes more agile, adaptable and as a leader, I get to access a diversity of thinking beyond what was ever within my natural reach previously.

The last word

So if your website is little too um, White, remember the words of Steve Jobs, “… new ideas come from diverse ways of seeing things."

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