Is diversity too big an issue for small business?

Diversity and small businesses. If the opportunity for diversity doesn't present itself, can it be an unrealistic goal for a small business owner?

The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear to see. But if the opportunity for diversity doesn’t present itself, can it be an unrealistic goal for a small business owner?

This article was first published on and is reproduced here with comment from Matt Nathan, editor of DiversityQ.

Diversity is a huge talking point in today’s business world. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently released a report suggesting targets of 33 per cent women in senior leadership positions by 2020. Businesses have had to show their hand on their gender pay gaps. We’ve heard talk of race and disability-focused employment quotas, and there has been concern from some quarters over a perceived prejudice among UK employers towards transgender workers.

But as society demands a utopian workforce of multiple races, genders, and outlooks, is it ok to ask, as smaller business owners, whether we have as much time for diversity as we’re being urged we should?

Diversity and the small business owner

Let’s be clear. It’s a no-brainer that a diverse workforce is better for all. Diversity can promote a broader scope of ideas and innovation. It can provide encouragement for all that being accepted and valued professionally is achievable regardless of skin colour, gender, or perceived position in society.

But how does this thinking square with the small business owner who wants to hire and manage the best employees available – regardless of their demographic profile – but sees a lack of diversity in the talent pool?

Take the engineering sector for example; an industry comprising around 90 per cent men, and one that is said to be deficient in ethnic minority representation. By simple probability, if I run a business of 20 staff in this field, 18 of them are likely to be contributing to a decidedly macho, and largely white, workforce.

It may not be a desirable atmosphere, even for some of the white men employed. But the nature of the supply of labour in the sector dictates that this vibe, at least for now, maybe the prevalent one.

We can always do more to promote sectors like engineering to underrepresented demographic groups

Quotas, for example, could be well and good if a diverse representation is stunted by genuine instances of discrimination. But when that isn’t the case, shouldn’t we be assessing candidates based on ability rather than their gender or racial status?

If it turns out that, in a given industry, the majority of skilled candidates are all women, many would view this as acceptable. But when the majority are men, people see a problem. Unless (and it can indeed be a big ‘unless’) there isn’t an active culture of marginalisation when it comes to treatment of minorities, are there not instances where this situation can also be acceptable?

Keeping the wolf from the door

That’s not at all to say that we shouldn’t be trying to make a difference on the diversity front. We can always do more to promote the engineering sector, for example, to underrepresented demographic groups, and give them as much chance as possible to succeed without feeling they are being ostracised.

But as it stands, if I want to employ staff who can sustain my business and keep the wolf from the door, I can only work with what’s available. In overseeing a non-diverse pool of labour should I really be made to feel I am contributing to a problem?

Running a small business is a constant balancing act between what is ideal and what is realistic, and for many business owners, I suspect this is one instance where diversity, very often, may cede priority to simply surviving.

Matt Nathan DiversityQ Editor Vitesse Media Content London Business
Matt Nathan DiversityQ Editor Vitesse Media

The above article rightly draws attention to the challenges small business owners face when trying to build a diverse team. We think it’s important to stress that the advantages of diversity and critically inclusion, if properly implemented, should move a D&I strategy from nice to have to need to have.

The business case for diversity and SME

  • Most businesses seek as wide and as profitable pool of customers as possible. Through having a workforce that better reflects the market you operate in it’s possible to tap into unthought-of revenue streams.
  • By including diverse perspectives and backgrounds you reduce exposure to long-term risk, risks that can sink unprepared businesses.
  • Having a diverse and inclusive workforce also allows you to build a strong and positive brand identity that cements deeper links to the community you’re operating in.
  • Broadening your approach to hiring and considering strategies such as blind hiring, that ensure you get the best applicants without the risk of unconscious biases getting in the way, allows you to tap into overlooked talent pools.
  • Diverse and inclusive teams are also often happy teams. This tends to increase productivity and lower staff turnover.

Gaining the above advantages is a challenge. But isn’t meeting and overcoming challenges and innovating the key to running a successful business?

If you’re a small business owner and you’ve benefited from a successful D&I strategy we want to hear from you and promote your work so please get in touch at

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel is the editor in chief for SME at Vitesse Media and is managing editor for and

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