Here’s a fact: No matter how diverse or inclusive you believe your organization is, there is always more work to be done.
As you hire new staff members, as you assign projects, as you assess salaries, as you engage with potential clients, as you set goals for growth, as you market your services—all the areas of running a business are impacted by how intentionally you advocate for equality, diversity and inclusivity.
What’s one way to keep the topic at the forefront of our minds as entrepreneurs? Let’s continue discussing it and exploring ways to support these critical priorities in our workplace.
What can you learn about workplace diversity and inclusion from two entrepreneurs and members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization?
“Throughout my journey as an entrepreneur and even as an individual, I have been very fortunate to meet people from diverse backgrounds who helped me get to where I am now. I believe diversity and inclusion occur when different people from different experiences come together with their shared stories and talents to work collaboratively,” says Anou Khanijou, the director of IFOTA Group and managing director at Anouconcept.
Anou believes that practising diversity and inclusion in the workplace is essential for a thriving business. “It encourages innovation, creativity and a sense of belonging and purpose. In my companies—IFOTA, a uniform wholesaler, and Anouconcept, a PR and marketing firm—we have team members from diverse backgrounds. We have a work culture that embraces diversity and promotes equality.”
She explains, “Culture may seem amorphous and vague, but to us, it means concrete actions. These include, for example, having both men and women in leadership or management roles, hiring people from a variety of backgrounds, asking team members to contribute ideas, and respecting those ideas by turning them into action. Even simple activities like shared lunches from different cultural backgrounds promote unity in diversity.”
“I work with a lot of creative minds and being inclusive means acknowledging their skills, giving them the freedom to be innovative and to make suggestions, and allowing them to be themselves at work. We need to recognise that not everybody has the same experience and lessons in life.”
“I got to where I am today because I learned from my failures and I was given second and third chances. My team deserves the same, and I see mistakes as learning opportunities,” she says.
Anou offers three tips to effectively promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace:
- Know your staff and know them well. Know what they have to offer and encourage them to participate based on their unique skills and needs.
- Be open to learning. Listen and learn from and together with others.
- Practice what you preach and set an example. By doing so, you create an empowering work environment where your team members trust you and want to collaborate with you.
“For us,” says Nyree Hibberd, CEO of Koh Living, “the key to inclusion is to ensure that we appreciate the differences in each other while bringing everyone back to our core values in the business. This way, we’re all on the same page, looking to achieve the same core goals within the business.”
“At Koh Living, both myself and my business partner, Tui Cordemans, are out and proudly gay! I remember 15 years ago when we were first hiring staff, we would routinely ask candidates if they had an issue working with people that are gay. Today, it’s absurd to think that we even asked those questions, and we’re grateful for our growth and changes in society,” Nyree shares.
Having a joint purpose, no matter what their role in the business, has always kept Nyree and Tui on track. “We focus on the things we have in common, not the things we have that are different,” she says.
Because human connections and relationships are at the heart of their business, “Making people feel important” is one of their corporate values where they promote and practise respect and responsibility. Whether it’s a customer, supplier or service provider, everyone is important at Koh Living.
Nyree shares a few tips to those who want to advance diversity and inclusion in their teams:
- Be aware of the diversity within your teams, and if any staff that are sensitive to particular things.
- Ensure that there is no room for sarcasm and putting down. We make it clear what is and isn’t acceptable.
- Ensure each team member understands the important role they play in the overall goal of the business. We create quarterly and weekly goals. We check in with each person, asking about their high priority activities for the week to help the business achieve its quarter goal. We find that this makes everyone feel they are on the same team, and there is little room for not feeling included when you’re part of the big picture.