Guest Post by She Can Coterie team member, Caroline Sumlin
I hate shopping for makeup. I’ve been wearing makeup since I was about 14, and I have yet to find a foundation that matches me just right. For some reason, makeup companies tend to think that women only come in a few shades of brown. You know — light, medium, and dark. (Insert side-eye here)
I’m sorry, but the last time I looked in the mirror, I was a beautiful shade of caramel and mocha with a bit of sea salt mixed in. NOT just “medium” or “dark.”
After hours of scouring the makeup aisles for the brand that has the widest variety of shades, I finally find something that I believe (read: hope) will work. “Yes! Finally!” I exclaim to myself as I hurry through the self-checkout at Target and rush to my car to tear it open. I lift down the car mirror and begin to apply the foundation only to be utterly disappointed. Yet another color that is too light for me. Yet another makeup brand that doesn’t understand the beauty and depth of a brown woman’s skin complexion.
I hop right out of my car and straight to customer service to return the makeup. It doesn’t even get the chance to make it home with me. Disappointed, I hope to have better luck next time.
It should not be this hard for me to find a foundation color that represents me, but it is. Just like it shouldn’t be hard to find African American representation in the world of online entrepreneurship, but it is.
Honestly, diversity shouldn’t have to be a thing that we talk about. It should just… be. When we look up from our phones and at the world around us, we don’t see what is reflected in media. We see a gorgeous array of colors, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses, curly hair, straight hair — you get the picture. I don’t need to sit here and convince you of how beautifully diverse our world is.
Yet as soon as you open Instagram and scroll through the top photos for the day, what can you honestly say that you see? When you search Pinterest for your next outfit idea, what ethnicity represents 99% of the pins you see? When you look at your own team and clients, does everyone look alike?
Why is it that our businesses do not reflect the true diversity around us? As CEOs, we MUST stand firm on the belief that diversity is a necessary foundation in our businesses. In order to serve our teams, clients, and audience well, we must represent them. Representation matters. It's a must.
As a woman of color, I automatically feel excluded when I am under-represented by a company in their marketing, advertising, or their employees. I know that the same more than likely holds true for any other minority, whether that be a racial minority, a religious minority, sexual minority, or economic minority. As humans, we want to feel valued, heard, seen, and loved. We want to feel human. We want to feel ACCEPTED. However, if we aren’t properly represented in our society, are we fully accepted?
So, now that we’ve had the hard discussion, let’s talk about what to DO about it. Let’s take an honest look at ourselves and our businesses and make a plan for how we can bring in diverse representation in every area.
First, let’s recap why this matters.
Because your audience wants to feel included and understood
Because your team members want to feel respected
Because your ideal client may not become your client if they don’t feel represented (Think about my makeup story. That company did not get my business and that wasn’t the first time that’s happened.)
Because there is someone out there who’s perfect for the job you’re hiring for, but they just may not apply if they don’t see anyone who looks like them on your website
Because in order for us to empathize and connect with our audience, clients and team members, we must do the work to understand every other perspective besides just our own. This is what separates a manager from a CEO. Let’s be CEOs.
So, where do I start?
Let’s start internally. Take an honest look at your business and ask yourself the following questions. You may want to get out a pen and paper or open a Google Doc where you can jot down some answers.
Do I have an inclusive company policy that specifically highlights the importance of diverse representation?
Are my team members legally protected against discrimination in the workplace?
Do I honor and celebrate the cultures and various ethnicities that are represented on my team?
Now, let’s ask some questions about the diverse representation of your client base:
Is my client base diverse? (Yes, it's important to have a niche and an ideal client so there will be similarities, but that doesn’t mean your clients don’t need to be diverse.)
Am I attracting a diverse group of leads? If not, how can I improve this?
Do I have a strategy in place to make sure I am inclusive in my reach strategy?
Do I have diverse representation on my Instagram feed and other social media channels? Is my stock photography diverse?
Lastly, let’s see how well you are supporting other business owners of diverse backgrounds:
Do I support other entrepreneurs that don’t look like me by purchasing their products and services?
Do I make sure the media influence I am receiving (podcasts, people I follow on Instagram, videos I watch on YouTube, etc.) is diverse?
Do I help promote other products and services offered by business owners with different beliefs and backgrounds?
Did you answer the questions or just skim them? Don’t worry about getting through this post. Stop and answer those questions so you can take the next steps.
Now, let’s fill in the gaps:
If you realized that you’re lacking diversity within your team, here are some things you can do to improve in this area:
Send out a questionnaire to your team and ask each member about their background. Take 5 minutes to highlight one team member’s background at the beginning of each team meeting until you have reached everyone.
Honor and celebrate all holidays as a team, even if that culture isn’t directly represented on your team. For example, the next time Kwanzaa rolls around, why don’t you celebrate it together?
The next time you are in the market to hire a new team member, seek out someone who represents a different background. I bet they will be exactly what your team needs.
If you realized that you’re not actively reaching a diverse group of clients, here are some improvements you can make in this area:
Start using stock photos that represent all skin tones on your social media.
Check your language in your marketing copy. Does it sound like it only targets one group of people? If so, change some of that language so it's more inclusive.
Reach outside your normal audience. For example, did you know there are hashtags that many African Americans use to represent themselves? Take a scroll down the #blackgirlmagic, #browngirlbloggers, or #blackentrepreneur hashtags and your next client might be right there! There are hashtags for all ethnicities!
Seek out what is interesting/on-trend for other backgrounds besides your own. Write content that caters to those trends.
Lastly, here are some ways you can support other entrepreneurs that come from different backgrounds:
FOLLOW THEM! Search those hashtags, they’re there! Hit follow! Engage!
Share their content on your social media channels
Read their content, sign up for their list, purchase their products and services.
Listen to podcasts from entrepreneurs of different backgrounds. So much knowledge lives in those podcasts. It will change the way you do business.
That was a lot of info, but it is necessary.
Diversity is a necessity and as CEOs, it is our duty to make sure we run businesses that empower and equip our team members and clients from ALL backgrounds. It's up to us to set the standard. We must be the change we want to see. Let’s create a world where we no longer have to work so hard to make sure our society is diversely represented. It starts with us.