Creating an Inclusive Workplace: Practical Tips for Small Businesses in Canada

In today's increasingly diverse society, fostering an inclusive workplace is a competitive advantage for businesses of all sizes, including small enterprises. While small businesses in Canada face unique challenges in implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives—such as limited resources, lack of specialized expertise, and tight-knit cultures—there are practical and cost-effective measures that can be taken to create a more inclusive environment. As a small business itself, CCDI Consulting Inc. has faced many of these challenges. Here are some strategies that we implemented to help build a more inclusive culture.

  1. Leverage Free and Low-Cost Resources:
    There are numerous free or low-cost DEI resources available online, including webinars, toolkits, and guidelines offered by non-profit organizations, government bodies, and industry associations. Utilizing these resources can provide valuable insights and frameworks for initiating DEI efforts without the need for significant investment. One of our favourite resources is our Parent organization, the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, a national charity established in 2013 with the mandate of building a more inclusive Canada, which offers toolkits, reports, educational and inclusion guides as well as a comprehensive glossary of terms.

  2. Foster an Inclusive Culture from the Top Down:
    Leadership commitment is crucial to driving DEI efforts. Small business owners and managers should lead by example, demonstrating inclusive behaviour and openly discussing the importance of diversity and inclusion. At CCDI Consulting, our leadership team actively defines what we mean by inclusion in different situations and challenge each other to ensure we have considered decisions from a wide range of lenses (not just our own).

  3. Encourage Employee Involvement: Involve employees in the DEI conversation by creating a voluntary diversity committee or hosting regular discussion groups. This allows employees to contribute ideas and feedback on how to improve inclusivity, ensuring that initiatives are reflective of the workforce's diverse perspectives. To do this review this article on Psychological Safety for tips and practical advice.

  4. Implement Flexible Work Arrangements: Flexibility is key to inclusivity. Offering flexible working hours, remote work options, or part-time positions can accommodate diverse employee needs, including those of working parents, caregivers, and individuals with disabilities. This not only supports inclusion but can also enhance employee satisfaction and retention. Often this involves just asking the questions – does this role NEED to be full-time?  What is required to be done and how can it be done differently?

  5. Provide In-House Training:
    Instead of expensive external training programs, consider developing in-house training sessions on topics like unconscious bias, cultural competency, and inclusive communication. Peer-led sessions or utilizing online platforms for shared learning can be both effective and engaging. Consider starting a “book club” to explore a topic around inclusion that individuals would like to understand better.

  6. Celebrate Diversity:
    Recognize and celebrate the diverse backgrounds and cultures of your employees. This can be as simple as celebrating a range of holidays or featuring diverse cuisines at company events. Celebrating diversity helps to build a sense of belonging and respect among team members. This could also include asking staff in a survey if there are any holidays that they would like included on the “corporate calendar”. This could serve as a starting point for learning more about that event and encouraging individuals to share their stories and experiences.

  7. Seek Community Partnerships:
    Collaborate with local community organizations, educational institutions, libraries, and other businesses to participate in or host joint DEI events, workshops, or mentorship programs. These partnerships can provide additional resources and networking opportunities to support your DEI initiatives.

Additional strategies you may want to consider include: 

  1. Create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs):  Encourage the formation of employee resource groups where individuals with shared identities or interests can come together to support each other and advocate for change within the organization. ERGs can focus on topics such as race, gender, 2SLGBTQIA+, disabilities, and more. 
  2. Provide Mentorship Opportunities: Pair employees from underrepresented groups with mentors who can provide guidance and support in their career development. Encourage cross-cultural mentorship pairings where mentors and mentees come from different backgrounds or identities. This allows for the exchange of diverse perspectives and experiences and can help break down barriers and foster a more inclusive culture.

Creating an inclusive workplace is a journey that requires continuous effort and commitment. For small businesses in Canada, the path to inclusivity doesn't have to be costly or overwhelming. By taking practical, thoughtful, and inclusive steps, small businesses can foster a workplace environment where diversity is celebrated, and all employees feel valued and included. Remember, the goal is progress, not perfection. Every step towards inclusivity is a step towards building a stronger, more resilient business. 

Our newsletter and blogs feature personal opinions and diverse viewpoints. We aim to create a safe space for our team to share their perspectives on diversity and inclusion. Please note that individual articles may not align with every reader's view or comprehensively cover a topic. We appreciate the diversity of opinions and respect our team's contributions.