When's the right time to start thinking about DEI when you're a small business?

By Ryan Lock 10/19/20214 Min Read — In Culture

As Planes has grown over the last couple of years, we've started to have more conversations about DEI; about what our internal processes and policies should be, how we incorporate good DEI practices into our work, and what 'good' even looks like for a company like ours.

As a business, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to have everything gripped - or are at least seen to have everything gripped. That you can't own up to not really knowing about something or having a clear position on it. But by hiding behind that facade you lose the opportunity to share learnings and create an honest dialogue on a matter.

We didn't like the sound of that so much. So instead of writing about DEI after we've gone through the learning journey, we thought we'd kick it off right at the start. The idea is to track our journey in learning more about DEI, in the hope that it will help other small business owners (or anyone, really), feel comfortable having conversations about DEI, and learn, alongside us, what impact you can make.

This post will be just one of many in a series, with many Planes contributors. It's a blog about people, and a business, who are happy to say that, while we don't know much now, we're here to learn, and we want to share those learnings along the way.

From principles to practice

When we started Planes, we didn't just want to help our clients build good digital businesses. We also wanted to build our own 'good' business. 'Good' didn't mean that we were knee-deep in cash, but that we put our people, the environment, and the community were the forefront of the decisions we make.

Fast forward three years.

I'm sitting with CJ and Henry, and we're interviewing a woman for a designer role. We're three white males. She asks us if there are any women in leadership.

I'm being asked about our commitment to DEI. I say that it's "important".

We hire another white male.

We don't hire another white male, who was really good, because we aren't comfortable that we have a diverse pool of candidates.

We're worried about doing too much, and hurting our business.

We're worried about doing too little, and hurting our business.

With each of these challenges, we've tried to put our approach and our decisions under the microscope and ensure that we're doing 'good'. Through that inspection, we've already started to tighten the screws on DEI; for example, our interview process has shifted from being a chat with the founders (three white males) to a conversation with a mix of the team, from different backgrounds and roles.

But we know we'd still like to do better. We'd like to know how to answer the questions, and address the challenges, with clarity and consistency.

Small business, big questions

Being a small business has its own challenges with DEI. At the moment we employ 20 or so people. Some of the questions we want to answer, and challenges we think we'll encounter are:

  • How much effort should you put toward DEI as a small business? Being small, it's difficult to get a truly diverse makeup of people. What's the best approach to DEI for different businesses sizes? We're hoping to uncover this at our current size, and then explore how our approach changes as our team grows.

  • How can DEI be a part of our growth strategy? Rather than an afterthought or a distraction, we think DEI can improve the quality of our work and the happiness of our people. We'd like to know how we can make decisions day-to-day not because we're ticking boxes, but because it helps us grow.

  • What can you actually do, if you're small? Presumably, there are some things that can be impactful at our size. And then there are some things that are best left to larger organisations (or can only be done by larger organisations). How can we provide the most impact with the resources we have?

  • What are our limitations? We may find that we have restrictions for historical reasons. For example, women are underrepresented in senior technical roles. While we want to hire senior women into technical roles, it's hard partly because there are just fewer of them. Would our efforts would be better expended on investing in growing diverse junior talent, rather than labouring to source diverse senior talent? What else about the market do we need to know to make impactful decisions?

Starting by learning

Now, there's no long term plan here on how we're going to navigate this, and trying to put one together would probably paralyse us into inaction. Anyway, for any good journey, you don't really need to know what you'll do in the end, you just need to know what you're going to do next.

To start, we have a little team of passionate people to lead the Planes efforts on DEI. They're equipped with the full support of the founders, allocated time, and budget to explore the questions above.

The next step for Planes is education. We want to find out what we don't know, and learn more about things that we think we know. We want everyone in Planes to take part in this so that we're all rowing in the same direction.

We've already had some awesome talks from Jaz O'Hara from The Worldwide Tribe, sharing the stories of people who've had to leave their homes behind; and Matt Measor from Monzo on Active Allyship. Over the next three weeks, we have another great speaker and guru in DEI education, Taz Latif. She'll be leading sessions with Planes on bias and human nature and on equality vs equity.

We'll be sure to post updates about our learnings and how we're using those learnings to do better. (We also promise to tell you about when we f* up, because that's part of it too, right).

If you want to chat with us about DEI, we'd love to hear from you. Whether you're another small business looking to compare notes, a bigger business that has a journey to share, or anyone else with an interest in what we're doing, give us a bell. You can email me at ryan@planes.agency.

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