It’s no secret that we, as a society, can do a better job supporting the success of people of color — especially in business.
While many large corporations are opening the dialogue of DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making changes to promote a more progressive workplace, solopreneurs have a hard time knowing where to start. If you don’t have the funds to hire underrepresented groups or make large financial contributions, what can you do?
A lot, according to social entrepreneur and founder of the DEI organization Grow By Three Kelsea Médard.
“Business owners who operate solo are at a strong advantage when it comes to implementing DEI,” she said, “because this generally means that they can focus on developing themselves in this area, and instituting DEI at all levels of the business without needing additional authorization.”
1. Focus On Your Own Development
Before you dive into action, Médard says it’s crucial to become as informed as possible.
“If you feel confident in your ability to research and learn on your own, search for reading lists that will help you dive into the relevance of DEI principles at organizational levels. As you gain more and more insight, try to get a bit more granular about DEI in your specific industry.”
Médard also recommends hiring a DEI consultant, if your budget allows, or conducting surveys with your previous customers and clients about how well they believe your company is promoting racial equality and inclusion.
“We have found that after a deep enough look, survey results and testimonials can be gold mines for ways to improve on DEI, specifically as desired by those who have already supported your business and may want to do so again.”
2. Assess Your Communication Materials
With other solopreneurs Médard has worked with in the past, usually the first area she assesses is their website, social media, and other communication materials to determine if the language is inclusive.
“In some cases, solopreneurs may be trying to target a particular segment of the market, so their language is focused on that segment, but in other cases, language can be too focused in a way that isolates certain people from feeling like they might be a good fit for what you offer.”
3. Create DEI-Focused Programs
Médard says a great way to take advantage of having all the deciding power is by creating DEI-focused programs.
“We do a lot of consulting on DEI-focused program development, so work in this area can also look like a solopreneur setting up a meeting with us to explain an idea they have to build on DEI through a particular program, initiative, or partnership. Once we have all of the information we need, we create a comprehensive plan to help that solopreneur develop their idea, improve it, and understand what it may take to bring that project to fruition.”
4. Watch For Blind Spots
According to Médard, one of the disadvantages solopreneurs have is that there are no employees they can rely on to catch blind spots or areas they could improve. Because of this, she says it’s crucial to turn to your other professional relationships for guidance and transparency.
“Though solopreneurs may work alone on behalf of their business, they may have tons of partnerships, and lots of clients or customers. Relationships with ‘external’ people are crucial to the success of the business, and DEI principles are highly relevant in those relationships.
For example, if a potential customer feels like: they cannot see themselves using your products or services due to a lack of diversity in the way you promote your brand, notices that you conduct business in an inequitable fashion, or fails to make intended use of your products/services because you did not take their particular group’s needs into account, this can gravely affect your company’s reputation and bottom line.”
While sharing quotes of solidarity online and making donations to organizations fighting for diversity is a positive step in the right direction, the real work takes place in our lives off-screen. Thankfully, you don’t have to be in charge of a major corporation to make a change.
“From our perspective, we feel that many solopreneurs and other entrepreneurs don’t actively seek to be against DEI,” Médard said. “Sometimes, the issue can be that (1) they think they are fostering DEI but are unfortunately missing the mark, or (2) they feel that they don’t have the resources (e.g., time, money, or staff) to take action. However, there are always ways to strategically move beyond both of these conditions.”