Competing in Business as an Underrepresented Entrepreneur

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From time to time, I post guest-written blogs that are pertinent to my consulting areas of diversity and career development.  Within diversity, as a certified LGBT-Business Enterprise via the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, I am very interested in diversity within the small business realm, and want to promote larger companies doing business with diverse suppliers.

This blog has been contributed by Marissa Perez, co-founder and head marketing writer at Business Pop. She has spent the last 10 years honing her marketing skills, and now she wants to share her knowledge with those who have decided to take on entrepreneurship.h

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Entrepreneurship is on the rise among underrepresented groups. There are more minority-, women-, and LGBT-owned businesses today than ever before, including women of color and non-white LGBT business owners. Diversity in entrepreneurship is a trend that thankfully shows no signs of slowing. However, the reasons for turning to entrepreneurship aren’t always positive.

Despite increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, minority, female, and LGBT employees still face bias when it comes to hiring and career advancement. One recent study found that not only do managers tend to hire employees ethnically similar to themselves, but peers are also more likely to recognize the contributions of white men over women and people of color. Meanwhile, LGBT employees continue to face high rates of workplace discrimination with no legal recourse in 29 states. With these barriers, it’s no surprise that so many underrepresented groups are turning to entrepreneurship. Unlike employees, entrepreneurs are in charge of their own career advancement — an enticing prospect for people accustomed to glass ceilings. However, small business ownership isn’t without challenges of its own.

Not only do underrepresented groups have a harder time getting funding, but they also have less access to business networks and skill development. This makes it harder to gain footing in a business landscape where entrepreneurs are competing against everyone from the small business owner next door to major players like Amazon.

While there’s no easy solution to the challenges faced by minority, women, and LGBT business owners, there are a few things entrepreneurs can do to build a business that competes in today’s marketplace. This article will explore a few of them.

Don’t Rush Through Business Planning

The smartest thing entrepreneurs can do is develop a solid business plan. The planning phase is an opportunity to flesh out ideas, test prototypes, and ensure an idea is financially viable.

The planning stage is also when new entrepreneurs should learn as much as possible about running a business. Small business associations are a great place to learn about fundamentals like financing and hiring, but independent research may be necessary for industry-specific information. Luckily, there’s no shortage of info available online. E-commerce businesses, for example, can look to online wikis to learn about topics like warehousing and fulfillment, while entrepreneurs in other fields can search for resources from industry organizations.

Invest in the Customer Experience

The customer experience is one of the most important factors for today’s consumers. It’s also the biggest way that small businesses can stand out from major enterprises like Amazon and Target. While staff are an important part of the customer experience, entrepreneurs shouldn’t put customer satisfaction solely in the hands of employees.

Not only is labor expensive, but employees can’t do their jobs effectively without the right tools. That’s why it’s so important for new business owners to invest in software and technology that allows them to manage sales, inventory, email marketing, and other aspects of the customer experience. While there are a lot of software options out there, many small businesses find that a full-featured point of sale system offers the tools they need in a cost-effective package.

Build an Authentic Brand

Great customer experience is a key element of a strong brand, but it’s not enough to make a business memorable. That’s where branding comes in. A brand shows your customers who you are and what you stand for, and it’s one of the best tools that underrepresented business owners currently have at their disposal.

While minority status can be a hindrance in the corporate sector, it’s a point of leverage in the small business sphere. By highlighting their company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, business owners cane some entrepreneurs worry about alienating consumers, research shows that authenticity is appealing to the 72 percent of Americans who prefer to support brands that reflect their values. While the key to cultivating customer trust and loyalty.

Starting a small business is never easy, and women, minority, and LGBT business owners face more challenges when entering the entrepreneurial space. However, as the growing numbers of underrepresented business owners demonstrate, these challenges may be big, but they’re not insurmountable. By connecting with supportive organizations and taking these steps to build a strong business, entrepreneurs from all backgrounds can succeed in small business ownership.

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Please do check out my related two part series on the under-representation of minorties in senior business roles.

Part 1 – Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach

Part 2 – Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders

Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training and with a unique program for long term career development.  Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training or career development for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]

Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders, Part 2

You can never take your foot off the gas in executing diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Last week I wrote in part 1 (Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach)… questioning if we are really making any progress in the diversity of corporate senior leadership.  I had just read an article in the Triangle Business Journal that featured the CEOs of our area’s 50 fastest growing companies … and 88% were led by white men! I also shared some research by industry leading consulting firm McKinsey measuring the under-representation of women and people of color in management and senior leadership roles.

In this blog I propose five tactics to systemically address this issue:

1) Training and commitment of senior leadership. The very top leadership has to understand the extreme criticality of building a more diverse leadership team. They need to understand the changing dynamics of the talent pool and how it is much more diverse. If most of the people progressing into higher levels are white men, they will eventually run out of qualified leaders.

2) Robust investment in minority coaching and training. Due to Unconscious Bias, particularly the “Like Me” syndrome, it is far too easy for current leaders to mentor and teach people similar to themselves. This is not necessarily done intentionally, but is a natural human tendency. Deliberate thought has to be given, and intentional action taken, to provide mentoring and development opportunities for underrepresented minorities. Extra investment may be needed since it is more challenging for someone to lead a group of which they are not in the majority.

More programs are needed for diverse students to start building the talent pipeline earlier.

3) Building an earlier pipeline. Companies as a whole need to get more engaged in building a diverse pipeline of future talent at far earlier stages. Investment needs to be made in education at the elementary and secondary levels, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas which historically have seen less investment in education than affluent areas. Companies can encourage and even provide paid time for employees to engage junior high and high school kids in career discussions, sharing the wide diversity of vocational options and encouraging youngsters to further their college or vocational education. See my blog from last fall featuring an innovative organization (District C) working to build diverse future leaders.

4) Never let up. One issue that is slowing down progress and even at times leading us backward is lack of an ongoing continual commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. So often executives see a little progress (“we now have an African-American in the c-Suite, women in management has gone up from 18% to 20%”) and then the budget gets cut and work stops. Then things will take their natural course and revert back to the old pattern. Dr. Vida Robertson, professor at the University of Houston, often states “you can not take the foot of the gas or the vehicle will stop.”  In this case, since it is an uphill battle, the car will go backwards once you take your foot off the gas!

5) Enforce with incentives. And finally, senior leaders and boards of directors need to spend more effort in measuring diversity statistics and even tying part of executive pay to diversity metrics. But do be careful that the incentives don’t drive leaders to haphazardly promoting underrepresented groups to simply get their bonuses, but need to be accountable for doing the real work if grooming diverse, competent leaders.

The business world as a whole needs to invest much more to deliberate building more diverse talent and senior leadership that truly reflects the demographics of our country and individual communities.

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Blog author Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training and with a unique program for long term career development.  Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training or career development for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]