I’m a black guy who runs a $60 million digital services company. I am proud of the diversity of my team — which is close to 200-49 percent female and 38 percent black, Indigenous, and Colored (BIPOC) — and the work we do through our incubator to help minority and other women entrepreneurs grow and expand their businesses.
My company is growing fast and I’m becoming an even more well known leader, especially in our hometown of Baltimore, yet I still sometimes wonder if I belong. Do you see the part? voice part? Does he view me through new relationships as a successful entrepreneur?
I recently attended the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs and was this year’s Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneur Finalist. It’s been a great four days for the COO and me.
However, as I walked around every day, I noticed that there weren’t many people who looked like me. This is not strange. At most events, I tend to be one of the few people of color in the room – which is frustrating. I have been fortunate over the years to have mentors and sponsors who have lifted me up and created space for me, but I often wonder about the impact a lack of diversity has on other entrepreneurs and leaders of color.
To be clear, more and more companies are committing to DEI’s efforts. According to McKinsey, companies committed $66 billion in 2020 to advance racial equality. Yes, we are making progress in the recruitment and advancement of women and people of color. Yes, there are more funding opportunities, and programs that highlight the successes and contributions of people of color. But it simply isn’t enough.
Creating diverse, equitable and inclusive environments means more than hiring or developing diverse talent. It means more than just increased investment in black-owned businesses and products.
As entrepreneurs, we have to create spaces to ensure true inclusion. People should feel comfortable with their own skin, and bring their full selves to the table. But in order to create inclusive spaces, the creators of said space must be representatives of the groups they seek to include. For example, when planning an event or award program, the committees that plan or judge the event should be diverse. This helps identify gaps in representation and ensure an environment that makes everyone feel comfortable. Creating a sense of inclusion helps people feel appreciated and gives them a sense of belonging, rather than just checking the box.
In their 2021 Deloitte Transparency Report, they defined inclusion, as one of their core values, as “promoting our inclusive culture to empower people to be their authentic selves, feel a sense of belonging, have courageous conversations with respect, and develop authentic relationships.”
In addition, we must be more aware of our own biases, and not make assumptions about the people we meet. When introducing someone to a meeting or event, don’t assume that they will come to you for help. The black entrepreneur you meet at an event may not be a rookie entrepreneur seeking advice from you – he could be the leader of a multi-million dollar project.
Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, said, “I think treating everyone equally no matter where they come from, no matter who they are and what role they play, is a big key because you never know who you’re talking to, really. You never know where They were. You never know where they’re headed. So, it makes a lot of sense to treat everyone the same and treat them well.”
Finally, those of us who have succeeded have to intentionally lift others up, invite them to places they may not be able to reach and give them a seat at the table. We have to help put those who are often overlooked in a position of influence and give them a platform to have their voices heard.
If companies want to attract more diverse talent, and organizations want to learn about a more diverse list of award nominees, there must be cultures and environments that attract, and a plan for engaging with a diverse audience. If you don’t know any people of color, or people of color aren’t familiar with your organization, there is no realistic way to anticipate change. Certainly, there will be no momentum gained if people leave feeling out of place.
As we make strides in creating more diverse workplaces and communities, we still don’t drive the will toward inclusion. For people to feel comfortable and confident in growing, expanding, and succeeding in environments they were not previously part of, we need to be more insistent on inclusion practices.