Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential components of a healthy and productive workplace. Fostering diversity in the workplace creates a more equitable and just environment. It also has been shown to lead to increased innovation, creativity, and productivity.
But how do you embrace diversity initiatives (DEI) for small chambers of commerce or even a chamber of one?
Many chambers have become advocates for DEI in their communities. They are teaching businesses how to embrace the initiative to become an “employer of note or preference” in the community. Small or one-person chambers can also lead their community in this endeavor.
Leading DEI for Small Chambers by Example (Regardless of the Size of Your Office)
How can you be diverse when you only have a few (or one) employees? It’s possible. It requires commitment and understanding that DEI extends much further than just who you hire.
Here are some tips on how to foster diversity in a small office:
- Educate Yourself:
One of the first steps in embracing DEI in your chamber of commerce office is to educate yourself on the issues even if you don’t have a budget to do so. This can include reading articles and books on DEI, attending workshops and webinars, and listening to podcasts. There are many free resources out there. You may even have a member who you can talk to about DEI in business.
- Establish a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy:
The first step to fostering diversity in a small chamber office is to establish a clear and comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion policy. This policy should outline your commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and set expectations for behavior and language. It should also include a forward-facing statement that you will share with your community.
Consider defining your commitment in simple ways. Some people have a negative view of the term “diversity” because they worry it means a position or opportunity will be taken from them. But when you explain your intentions of fairness, it becomes something everyone can embrace. Additionally, you might want to set targets for increasing diversity in membership and leadership positions, developing strategies for addressing bias, and creating a more inclusive environment. Detail what you want to do and how you will get there.
Like your strategic plan, this commitment to DEI should have a public-facing component so the community understands your dedication to DEI.
Screenshot from the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce (CA)
- Encourage Open Communication:
Encourage open communication among your employee(s) and volunteers/board and make it clear that everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued. This can help create a safe and inclusive environment where all voices are heard and respected.
Sometimes it may be necessary to call on a more reserved person or create a space outside of a crowded board room for them to share their observations. Not everyone feels comfortable giving an opinion in front of others, especially if the others are louder and more experienced than they are. It’s also difficult to give a dissenting opinion. Before assuming everyone agrees, talk to them one on one.
- Offer Diversity and Inclusion Training:
Consider offering diversity and inclusion training to your employees, board, stakeholders, vendors, and other volunteers. This training can help them understand the importance of diversity and inclusion and provide them with the tools to effectively communicate and work with people from diverse backgrounds and different generations. This type of training also sets them up for success in other areas that they serve or work. For instance, educating your board members on the importance of DEI for small chambers or businesses will (hopefully) spread the message to their businesses or other organizations where they may sit on the board as well.
- Offer DEI Programming:
After training your staff and your volunteers, train your members. Create programming around DEI in business. With DEI, as with many types of programming, there are two types–theoretical programming and hands-on training. The first provides intellectual stimulation with a history of DEI and discriminator practices. Even education on HR laws falls into the theoretical side of DEI.
On the other hand, the practical application allows attendees to your programming to come away with something they can implement. You should offer both types of programming as some people need to know the why and theory behind the practice before they can implement change, whereas others want actionable items to begin changing the script.
- Build Partnerships:
Partnering with diverse organizations, nonprofits, and businesses in your community can help you embrace DEI in your chamber of commerce. You can partner with organizations that serve underrepresented communities and age groups, sponsoring events that celebrate diversity, and collaborating with diverse businesses to promote economic development, for instance. The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber has collaborated with their own diverse councils and groups for example.
- Promote Diversity in Hiring:
Ensure that your hiring process is inclusive and promotes diversity. This can include posting job openings on diverse job boards, using inclusive language in job descriptions, and actively seeking out candidates from underrepresented communities.
But “hiring” in a chamber doesn’t just apply to your paid positions. Keep this in mind when recruiting for board members, inviting speakers, creating events (be diverse in the types of events you host as well), working with vendors and caterers, and even your intern and scholarship programs.
Wherever you have a choice to work with someone, ask yourself if you’re always bringing in the same type of person be it in experience, background, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- Celebrate Diversity:
Celebrate the diversity of your employees and create opportunities for them to share their cultures, traditions and life experiences. This can include hosting cultural events and celebrations, highlighting diversity in your marketing materials, and promoting diversity in your social media channels. If you’re not sure about other holidays, there are many holiday calendars on the internet you can reference.
- Include Age Diversity:
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 8% of organizations with a DEI policy address ageism in the workplace and yet 82% of adults between 50 and 80 have experienced outright ageism (University of Michigan).
Stock photos and templates such as this one from Canva often miss the mark on age diversity.
- Address Bias and Microaggressions:
It’s important to address any bias or microaggressions that may arise in your chamber. Encourage your employees to speak up when they witness bias or microaggressions and provide them with the support they need to address these issues constructively and respectfully. Keep an eye out for it in board meetings and networking functions.
- Engage in Outreach:
Engaging in outreach to underrepresented communities can help you build a more diverse and inclusive chamber of commerce. This can include attending events and meetings in diverse communities, speaking at events to promote your chamber of commerce, and actively recruiting diverse members.
The bottom line behind a successful DEI strategy is to create a welcoming environment at the chamber. Fostering diversity in a small chamber office requires a deliberate and intentional effort. By establishing a clear DEI policy and being respectful and welcoming in your office and throughout your community, you can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace that benefits everyone and acts as a model for other businesses and chambers alike.