(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Over the last few years, major corporations have announced new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at their organizations. And studies like one from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in 2020 have shown that companies with a more diverse workforce and customer base tend to be more profitable in the longer term.
DEI is not only a big company thing. It’s an important consideration for small businesses, too.
For example, the leadership team at the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 1,100 members, has said its DEI initiatives are “critical” for the organization’s long-term growth.
“Why would a Black-owned business want to come to us if we aren’t thinking and looking to help and provide resources to Black-owned businesses?” says Christina Renna, the chamber’s president and CEO.
Renna, who took over the chamber’s leadership in early 2020, has made it a priority to include more Black, Latino, female, and LGBTQ-run companies in her organization. Diversifying can be a challenge for an organization that has been comprised of primarily white-owned businesses for decades.
But Renna has stepped up the South Jersey Chamber’s recruiting efforts through creating partnerships with organizations like the African American and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in her state and increasing outreach into communities of color. She’s doing this because she believes a more diverse membership will make her organization stronger and better positioned for future growth.
“Let’s face it,” she says, “If that individual does not feel like they belong in that room when they walk into it, they’re not going to have a good experience with us.”
Diane Matthews, a small-business owner in Pennsylvania, feels it’s important for her community to experience working with a company that employs people with different backgrounds.
“I’m Black, and I operate a business in a predominantly white area of Chester County with a mostly white clientele,” said Matthews, who owns and operates the Diane Matthews School of Dance Arts in West Chester. “I know the richness of having people from different backgrounds and colors and what they bring to a business.”
Dancing is art, says Matthews, and having a diverse group of dance instructors offers a different perspective on her art to her customers.
When it comes to recruiting new talent, Matthews has reached out to other dance companies that are mostly made up of people of color.
She also encourages businesses who want to become more diverse to consider recruiting at HBCUs — historically Black colleges and universities — that are “graduating, fantastic, qualified, wonderful people of color.”
“A business needs variety that’s going to give their customers and community more experiences,” Matthews says.
Expanding your customer base and connecting your community are some of the tangible benefits a small-business owner can achieve through DEI. Another important aspect of DEI must be considered: Not having a diverse company can cost you potential talent.
Sulaiman Rahman runs DiverseForce, a diversity consulting and networking firm in Philadelphia. Since its inception in 2017, the firm has filled 185 board seats in 145 different organizations with people of color and from underrepresented backgrounds. He believes that not tapping into diverse networks posesan inherent disadvantage for companies, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees.
“There’s been a paradigm shift, and it’s an ‘ah-ha’ moment for many companies,” he says. “Your employees know that the future of the workforce is going to be much more diverse than they’ve seen the past. They want to see their employers — or future employers — making that effort.”
Matthews says she sometimes still feels “puzzled” that more businesses don’t see these benefits.
“Why wouldn’t every business owner want to have a variety of people in their organization?” she asks. “Any business that hasn’t figured out that the backgrounds of various different people just enhances the experience that they offer their clients — not doing this can hurt their business.”