Leading by Example: How to Create a More Welcoming Family Business for All

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More often than not, when you think about your favorite local restaurant, your reliable service provider, or perhaps even your favorite convenience store, those businesses are family-owned. Even many larger regional businesses that provide products or services to consumers and industry are also family-owned.

Family businesses are generally respected in their communities, catering to customers that typically appreciate the authenticity and unique dynamic of their business. While it has long been recognized that family businesses are the backbone of the American economy, they also hold the power to make sure their workplace and industries are helping to ensure that all people are treated fairly and equally.

Recent research has shown that family businesses enjoy longevity, create greater business opportunities for women, and tend to invest in their communities. In today's social and business climate, where discrimination and inequalities are increasingly being called out, family businesses can choose to be leaders in building a more equitable future for all.

What Is Equity?

Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equity includes promoting fairness and justice, and it is recognized as something that needs to be both achieved and sustained. To do so, this concept of equity needs to be embedded in a family business' culture, including awareness of equality, inclusion, diversity, and at the very core, respect for all people.

Also, let's not forget the legal baseline: that family businesses are not exempt from federal, state, and local laws prohibiting certain types of discrimination and harassment. A family business needs to meet the legal standards applicable to any other type of business.

Aside from the clear argument that it's the legal and right thing to do, creating a workplace where all people feel included and welcomed can benefit your family business. A more inclusive workplace is likely to draw in more customers, create a space that people want to invest in, and show that your family business values community building. That said, this article aims to provide a few tips for family businesses to consider in leading and promoting equality, dismantling illegal discrimination, and ensuring a future where all people are treated fairly.

Identify Areas of Opportunity

First and foremost, all businesses must recognize that each organization is at a different stage of the process. Some family businesses are only now beginning to acknowledge the disparities that are being exposed in society, while others may be feeling the impact of such disparities and are playing an active role in leading change. Regardless, now more than ever before, family businesses have an opportunity to promote a greater work ethos that can positively impact their operations, their customers, and their communities.

Your business can begin by identifying and preventing unconscious (or even conscious) bias. Hold a team meeting and bring your staff together for honest communication and discussion on how your business can create a better workplace. If you aren't sure where to start, consider acknowledging those protected classes and vulnerable members of the community and how your business can better serve them. Acknowledge areas where perhaps your family business has held or tolerated bias.

Consider how you can better welcome people with disabilities. Contemplate how you can support and advocate for those who need your voice most at this time, from the Black Lives Matter movement to immigrants in your community. Examine how you hire staff and to whom you give leadership opportunities. Scrutinize how your social media is seen in the eyes of others, not just your family members and those who share your same core beliefs.

We all have our own particular spheres of influence that shape the mindset and behaviors of others. Continuously reflect on the messages your family business sends to your customers, your community, and the people connected to your business.

Taking the Next Steps

Now that your family business has identified areas that need improvement, acknowledge that everyone has unconscious bias, and consider how to better your workplace—to hold yourself accountable and implement best practices. Take the necessary steps to lay out what equitable practices look like in your business environment and put policies in place to implement those practices. Just like any other work-related decision, this effort may require education and training.

It is easy for all of us to want to treat all people fairly, but using objective criteria is necessary. Why? Because objective criteria will help a family business make decisions based on agreed-upon goals.

One thing to consider in a family business is whether all team members share the same family-influenced bias. Unintentional or not, your work-related decisions may be influenced by this bias. Therefore, objective criteria can help guide decisions in ways that aren't based on personal ideology and emotion but, rather, achievable metrics.

Finally, be proactive. Be willing to speak out against those who discriminate. Recognize discriminatory and harassing behavior, off-the-cuff comments, and other potentially hurtful conduct for what they are: workplace deficiencies.

Provide access to seminars and educate yourself and others on your team on how to create a safer and more welcoming business. Get advice if needed. Your family business has to step up to change the status quo, and to do so may require stepping out of your comfort zone. It will require a greater consciousness of how you act, and being more mindful of your language with customers, employees, and the communities where you operate.

Furthermore, if your family business has ties to networks outside the United States, be proactive in learning about the socio-cultural differences. Respecting your customers, investors, and supply chains outside the country will lead to more effective communication, stronger relationships, and possibly higher profits. The point is to be willing to take meaningful action.

Regardless of your own racial, political, religious, or other identity, respect, tolerance, fairness, equality, and equity are at the core of human decency. As a family business you have an opportunity to lead by example and create a workplace that overcomes many of these challenges.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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