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Diversity & Inclusion Strategies: Not just for big business

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

By Cathy Leonard, Cathy Leonard Consulting

Many large corporations have been focused for decades on advancing diversity and inclusion, leveraging years of research that proves organizations with diverse workforces and inclusive cultures are more innovative and profitable. However, this strategy is not exclusive to big business. Here are three ways you can integrate diversity and inclusion to grow your small- or medium-sized business.

Drive innovation

When people with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and perspectives work together, the results can be extraordinary. In fact, The Conference Board has demonstrated that inclusive cultures are four times more likely to be innovative and the Center for Talent Innovation has found that intentionally fostering diversity and inclusion makes companies 70 percent more likely to capture a new market.

What you can do:

  • Develop a “speak up” culture where the opinions of all employees are valued. Create the space for people to contribute fully, accommodating differences in communication style and encouraging heathy debate and questioning of ideas.

  • Recognize and reward ideas and efforts, not just the end product or “being right.”

  • Ensure people are not inadvertently left out of important conversations, meetings, or social events that are an extension of the workplace.

  • Model inclusivity and expect the same from others. Culture comes from the top.

Access diverse markets

Strategic businesses stay competitive by understanding their existing customer base and potential growth markets. Diverse markets are enormously lucrative yet can be poorly leveraged. For example, women make or influence 85 percent of all purchasing decisions, but 91 percent of women say advertisers don’t understand them. And it’s estimated there are two million LGBTQ+ consumers across Canada, with a spending power of $100 billion, but many marketers ignore this community.

What you can do:

  • Understand the demographics and diversity characteristics of the marketplace. Consider whether your offering could be adapted to meet the needs of a diverse group or whether you are unintentionally excluding people. Gather insights from employees, customers, the public, local groups, and websites dedicated to different communities and cultures.

  • Build a diverse workforce that will innately understand a diverse set of customer needs, facilitating product development and sales strategies that resonate with those markets. Avoid relying on referrals and existing networks to find employees, as both restrict the diversity of your talent pool. Use caution in hiring for “fit,” which may exclude individuals who could challenge the status quo and drive innovation.

  • Market your inclusive approach. Customers have many choices and will often select brands that support their values and beliefs.

Retain and engage employees

With a shrinking talent pool, the fight for top-tier talent can be fierce. Furthermore, existing employees possess expertise and have built relationships with clients; they are expensive to replace. Current research has demonstrated that diversity, inclusion, and organizational culture have become important job search and retention criteria, particularly for millennials, who are now the largest cohort in the Canadian workforce.

What you can do:

  • Ensure your workplace is respectful and that each person is appreciated and connected to the organization.

  • Maintain equity and transparency in people processes such as training, advancement, and pay.

  • Facilitate work-life balance; create flexible work arrangements, which have become an important consideration for individuals choosing an employer.

  • Talk with employees. Ask what they value and how you can help them. Senior leaders can be the farthest removed from actual employee experiences.

Getting started

Take the time to gather relevant information and select the approaches that best align with your business goals—write them down, measure their impact, and then reassess. And remember, don’t stop with diversity—you will experience the greatest gains when your workplace is inclusive!


Cathy Leonard,

Cathy works with organizations to build diverse workforces and inclusive workplace cultures. Through consulting and training, she helps her clients connect diversity and inclusion strategies to improved business performance.

Prior to launching her consulting firm, Cathy spent 15 years working throughout Canada in the oil and gas industry, focused on human resources, diversity, inclusion, and financial management.

Cathy is a Canadian Certified Inclusion Professional (CCIPTM), has a Master of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Commerce, and a certificate in Leadership and Inclusion.

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