When businesses start up, they are often small, tightly-knit groups of pioneers that come from the same background, even from the same family. This works very well in the early survival stages of a venture, but as soon as the business reaches a more stable post-survival growth phase, the founders have the opportunity to look around a bit more widely, and to diversify their workforce.
Those who don’t, forego the richness of varied ideas and run the risk of stagnating, and remaining small and insular. But human resource diversification, like any process of change, can be uncomfortable and risky, says Kgomotso Ramoenyane, Executive General Manager of Human Resources at Business Partners Limited. She offers the following ten tips for entrepreneurs who want to bring diversity into their businesses in the right way:
1. Ask yourself why
Start with examining your reasons for wanting to diversify your staff. If you only want to do it in order to score B-BBEE points so as to get more business, chances are that you are going to find it a frustrating exercise that is likely to strengthen the prejudices of those in your organisation resistant to the idea.
But if your reasons are based on true long-term business advantages of diversity such as more creativity and innovation, increased productivity and opening up new markets. The reasons orders your thought processes and gives you a set of priorities with which to work.
2. Set your targets
You can introduce diversity into an organisation in so many different ways – age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, abilities – that you cannot do it all at once. Pick realistic targets aligned with your reasons for diversifying.
3. Get buy-in
One of the key dynamics of human resources diversification in a business is increased interaction and collaboration between diverse people. It would be odd, and most likely doomed to fail, if you were to start such a process without first gaining the collaboration of your existing team around the idea, the reasons for it, what to expect, and how it is going to be rolled out and measured.
Given that most small business owners might not have the experience with this process, it might be a good idea at this stage to consult one or two of the organisational change experts available in the market to assist.
4. Recruit according to your plan
If you hold out for the perfect candidate with just the right profile, skill set and aptitude, you are probably not going to make much progress. On the other hand, if you are simply going to appoint token candidates, the project is not even worth starting.
5. Integrate the differences
Recruitment is just the start of diversifying your staff. The whole point of human resources diversification is to forge different perspectives and experiences into a rich, vital team. It takes a lot of work from management to embrace differences and obtain maximum performance levels from a diverse team. It means listening to many different inputs and taking them all seriously, without necessarily throwing out every established way of doing things nor having to try to find a perfect compromise about every issue.
6. Encourage mentoring and coaching
New recruits can always do with some mentoring and coaching in any business. Someone brought in from a different background and experience to the dominant culture of the company is likely to benefit even more from support in the beginning. Pairing such new recruits with experienced members of your staff in a mentorship relationship can go a long way to help form the new bonds that lie at the basis of the idea of diversity.
7. Weed out discriminatory policies and practices:
A diversifying company is likely to come across established practices that unintentionally discriminate against newcomers with differing needs. Staff members in early motherhood might need flexible hours, strict rosters might prevent a worker from attending mosque on a Friday and even a set of stairs might be a formidable obstacle to a staff member with a disability.
8. Start new projects
An influx of fresh blood into a business is a fantastic opportunity for a company to try new projects with diverse teams. It almost defeats the object of diversification if the intention is to stick to business as usual.
9. Look for commonalities
One way of weaving the differences between diverse employees into a rich tapestry is to focus on the opposite – the things that they have in common. Pointed discussions of shared interests and values, and planned activities to emphasise those will help to forge the bonds.
10. Celebrate successes
Diversifying is a difficult and uncomfortable process. It is therefore important to not only to fight inevitable pockets of resistance and come down firmly on individuals who cause unnecessary friction, but also to emphasise the positive by celebrating every milestone towards a truly diverse workplace.