Do you ever think that your employees and your clients or customers seem a bit too similar to you for your business to grow outside its niche? Or that your business could maybe be more successful if you could find a way to attract clients from broader backgrounds? Well we’re here to tell that the answer to both these questions is “YES”! BUT just employing people from diverse backgrounds, genders, ages and so on is not a complete solution, nor is attracting a diverse clientele without understanding what their unique needs are. Here we will talk about two concepts: Diversity and Inclusion, the differences and similarities between the two, and how small businesses can benefit from each.

We’ll start with the origination of workplace Diversity since it is the precursor to the concept of Inclusion as a business imperative starting with the passing of “Affirmative Action” in 1961 and then the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Since these two important events Corporate America has been focused on creating a racially diverse representation in the workplace. This went on to include gender, age, and protected classes. These “diversity initiatives” proved to only be a numbers game of counting people, and while a company might look diverse, all the control and ideas came from the top executives who had seniority and had reached an age of presumed wisdom. Now this top-down approach has been the US-centric cultural norm for many decades but it has also proven to be flawed. And as transportation and technology have created a global economy that no longer accepts US style only goods and services, many businesses have been limited in their local approach to business and revenues have failed to grow.

Today’s business owners and leaders understand that diverse employees contribute unique understanding to emerging new markets. But this means nothing if the insights and input of these employees are not captured and engaged. Having a diverse workforce can be a great asset if the brainpower of these individuals is utilized to better understand and engage your diverse customers or clientele. An engaged employee can equal an engaged customer. Now this diverse workforce that we’re referring to does not only relate to ethnicity or gender but also includes age. With a looming exodus of the Baby-Boomer generation to retirement, Gen-Y is set to explode into the workforce, so business owners and leaders must not ignore the tremendous opportunity for their business with this younger generation who is considerably more comfortable with technology, because good ideas come from everywhere not just top execs or owners.
This leads us to the concept of Inclusion. In the past Inclusion was thought of as US-centric with no link to business and represented metrics of talent acquisition. Now Inclusion has come to be known as a business strategy with a global focus and completely business imperative. No matter the size of your business, you are in a “global economy” and having a competitive advantage means being innovative through diverse thought. Inclusion is not only employing diverse employees but also engaging their ideas and thoughts and implementing them into business strategy, thus creating loyalty and retaining talent for your company. By placing key employees in specific growth markets in your company you will create a culture of inclusion, and creating a culture of inclusion aides in the selling of goods and services to diverse emerging markets. It has been proven that companies that practice inclusion have faster growth- look at the “think tank” Amazon employs. And with Gen-Y being the fastest growing workforce segment who excel in an inclusive environment, Inclusion can totally affect your bottom line!