How small businesses can become more socially responsible in the midst of many priorities

Social responsibility is at the forefront of many business leaders' minds. And there’s more than one reason why. According to a Cone Communication study, 87% of consumers said they are willing to buy a product or service based on a company’s advocacy concerning a social matter. But, in the midst of so many priorities, how can smaller businesses carve out time to focus on social responsibility?

Many large companies express stances on social issues, but efforts made by smaller businesses often go unnoticed. Jenny Bristow, CEO of St. Louis-based digital marketing agency Anvil Analytics, declared Juneteenth a holiday within her small business months before many large scale businesses did. 

“At Anvil, any words we say need to be backed by action,” says Bristow. “In order to show our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we don't release any statement unless there's an action tied in with the release.”

Here are a few tips on becoming more socially responsible in your small business.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Take potentially uncomfortable conversations as an opportunity for growth and education. Allowing employees to speak freely and exchange ideas regarding social issues is a great first step to increasing awareness and diverse thought within your company. Hosting weekly or monthly check-ins with employees can improve employee morale which, in turn, improves the client experience.

After the coronavirus outbreak, Bristow scheduled time once a week to touch base with her employees amidst the chaos. Having no set agenda during the meeting, the team used the hour to engage in both lighthearted and serious conversation.

"I think we, as business owners, need to challenge ourselves to ask hard questions. For example, how am I purposely supporting my employees? And what is my organization doing to better society?"
Jenny Bristow, CEO Anvil Analytics

Diversify Your Team

A 2017 Boston Consulting Group study found that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue. The study showed that a diverse staff developed more relevant products because they were more in tune with the customer's changing needs. The team’s innovative advantage stems from their different backgrounds, providing a variety of perspectives, ideas and solutions. 

If the majority of your staff come from a similar background, you will have more narrow viewpoints and limited solutions to your business challenges. Making an effort to create a team with members of different ages, races, genders and abilities can help boost both creativity and productivity.

One specific way you can help find candidates who are a good fit is to include guiding principles or inclusivity-based interview questions to help identify people who will support an inclusive culture. 

Be Transparent During Your Learning Process

As business leaders, acknowledging that you don’t know all the answers is an opportunity to relate to - and learn from - your team. Respond to tough questions with open-ended, curious responses such as: “I don’t know, but I would like to learn. Can you assist me?” Or “I’m not sure, what are your thoughts?” Your authenticity and willingness to grow as a leader can lead to better conflict resolution and may help grow a sense of community within your workforce. 

Intentionally Use Inclusive Language 

According to the University of Arkansas Business Communication Center, inclusive language is a key component of successful business communication. Avoiding language that assumes a subject’s gender, race, or sexual orientation, allows the communicator to structure sentences in a neutral fashion. 

According to the report, assumptions are periodically made unintentionally, so avoiding them may require some extra thought. Notice the assumptions you make about an individual’s age, gender, sexual orientation, race, and background, as these assumptions can impact your ability to successfully communicate. 

Provide Training to Your Employees

Take advantage of organizations that specialize in the areas of social responsibility and diversity and inclusion training. Check out the Diversity Awareness Partnership and The National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis for more information on educational opportunities.

Be Sure You Deliver on Your Plans

Because there is heightened awareness around companies taking action steps and not “just discussing” social responsibility, it’s important that your organization delivers on your social responsibility plan. Be sure your decisions are meaningful, measurable and reasonable. Focus on areas of social responsibility that you and your team believe in and are passionate about. Connecting your social responsibility goals to your company’s key principles is a great place to start.

To ensure that you achieve your goals and deliver on your commitments, design a SMART Action Plan (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Reasonable and Time-Bound), which can be simple, but it will hold you and your team accountable. For example, if your goal is to increase the percentage of minorities on your staff and/or leadership team, set a goal and review it regularly. 

Pick an Organization to Support 

Even if you already support some organizations, consider finding a new organization that aligns with your company’s mission, and make efforts to support them. Providing volunteer time to your employees encourages participation and shows your commitment to community involvement. Organize a company-wide day of service where your employees can collaborate on a volunteer project. Giving back as a group can be a valuable exercise and will increase your level of impact on the organization. 

In today’s world, there is no shortage of causes in need of support. Whichever method your company chooses, whether it be volunteer time, a donation, or sponsorship, there are a variety of ways in which your company can get involved with an organization.