By Sandra Hannebohm – Entrepreneur, Journalist and Digital Producer
People of colour have an advanced understanding of racism and how it manifests in everyday life.
From wage gaps to micro-aggressions, as we live and work, we observe how discrimination sneaks into our workplaces, small or big, and somehow the decision makers in the company don’t even notice what they’re doing.
The obvious reason why even start ups need a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy is to protect against racism and discrimination, which is a novel approach for huge, established companies but a familiar struggle for Black small businesses.
To benefit from diversity, businesses need effective policies that clearly state why and how they make their workplace welcoming.
More than ever, people are aware of how beneficial it is to offer a welcoming place for employees of all kinds, yet still, studies keep showing that things haven’t really improved for Black people at work.
Even businesses with a majority of non-white staff can fall into this trap and become unwelcoming places for people who are viewed as different.
No business is exempt from the responsibility to fight societal problems in their workplaces, whether it’s racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination.
That’s the deal—one person commits their time and talent to the goals of the company, and in return the company is responsible for ensuring that they’ll be safe and healthy (via wages or salary, health benefits, amenities, etc.) for at least as long as they’re employed. Included in that deal is the company’s responsibility to make sure the employee isn’t being harassed or treated unfairly, and that if it turns out that they are, the company knows how to fix it.
Even Black owned businesses with a majority of non-white staff can be guilty of discrimination. Take, for example, the Black News Channel.
The multimillion dollar start up was founded by Black journalists, many of whom left their jobs at established media companies in hopes of becoming a powerful voice for an underserved audience.
After two years, in March 2022 BNC closed its doors when they failed to make payroll. As well as financial issues that led to their billion dollar investor backing out, BNC was facing a gender discrimination lawsuit after a group of female journalists found they were paid less than their male counterparts. (The company was later acquired by Byron Allen and merged with The Grio).
Your own, potentially ‘scrappy’ start up might be forgiven for not having robust policies in the early years.
After all, the journalists at BNC knew it was a gamble to sacrifice the benefits and salaries of their former jobs.
It’s understandable if you don’t launch your start up with a definitive DEI policy already in hand, especially if you don’t have staff. But if you plan on growing, you plan on hiring.
What you can do in the meantime is slowly develop draft policies for your future workplace.
Start a bookmark list in your browser, use a note taking app, grab your pen and paper and save a page for DEI.
When you come across businesses who have good or bad DEI policies, when you see stories in the news about DEI in the workplace, save it for later. You’ll thank yourself for it.
The fall of the Black News Channel shows that even an all-Black company with millions of dollars in financial backing can fail its employees by not taking DEI seriously. A thoughtful and effective policy can help to create a safe and inclusive environment for all kinds.
About the Author
Sandra Hannebohm (she/her) is a journalist, digital producer and founder of Twice As Good, a Black multimedia newsletter that helps you better engage with the news by slowing down. She also hosts and produces The Lion’s Roar Podcast from Lion’s Roar magazine.