As more white, cis Americans are awakening to the racism and racial inequity, cultural discrimination and rejection of LGBTQ people that has been prevalent in our country, they are also realizing the need to directly address these entrenched problems.

As more white, cis Americans are awakening to the racism and racial inequity, cultural discrimination and rejection of LGBTQ people that has been prevalent in our country, they are also realizing the need to directly address these entrenched problems.

As this consciousness is changing, so too are expectations of businesses, government, education and other organizations.

What this means for a massage practice, spa or school is unless the owner already has authentic practices in place regarding staffing, HR, marketing and in-house behaviors, it’s time to do things differently.

Bonita McClure
Bonita McClure

“A spotlight on company commitment and accountability regarding diversity became much more evident with the advent of social unrest and political events in 2020, and particularly with the killing of George Floyd,” Bonita McClure, director of diversity and inclusion with Implus consumer fitness and health products company told MASSAGE Magazine.

One national study conducted in 2021 market research company Quantilope shows 60% of consumers overall feel diversity and inclusion are important, and while just 46% of people ages 57 to 75 feel this way, 72% of people ages 41 to 56 do so, as do 76% of younger adults.

Diversity should be at the forefront of business conversations and must be a priority for businesses to remain innovative, creative and successful, said McClure, adding, “A focus on diversity should be woven into the fabric of a business, as it is a competitive necessity.”

Bias Holds Business Back

Bias in the context of diversity means holding a negative opinion about a person because of their race, age, gender, gender identity, physical ability, religion, sexual orientation, weight or other characteristic. Unconscious, or implicit, bias, can be very common even when it is at odds with a person’s conscious values.

Unconscious bias informs whom business leaders hire, promote, develop and assign important projects to, and how they evaluate employees, said McClure, and limiting such practices to a narrow range of humans rather than being inclusive limits a company’s ability to be creative and innovative.

Michelle Ngome
Michelle Ngome

Another way bias holds businesses back is by excluding potential target audiences and ideal clients, according to Michelle Ngome, president of the African-American Marketing Association.

“Businesses have to understand that minority communities tend to be loyal to reliable products and services, and easily factor into the lifetime value of a customer,” Ngome said, adding that these groups will continue to push the importance of diversity—so if businesses want a portion of their spending money, they will embrace diversity practices.

Diversity experts agree that the success of a business depends in part on its leaders’ ability to embrace varying perspectives, backgrounds and lived experiences.

Stan Kimer
Stan Kimer

“When we are not even aware of our bias and missteps they can lead to, we could be losing good, diverse talent as well as losing customers,” said diversity consultant Stan Kimer. “We all need to become aware of the biases that we have and make deliberate moves to mitigate them.”

Building Diversity in a Business’s Staff

After company leaders have done the work to identify and release personal biases, to improve diversity they should create a scorecard with diversity goals, metrics and measurements to hold themselves accountable, said Kimer. Next, they should create a company structure so that diverse employees are heard and provide input into the company’s diversity work, such as diversity councils and employee resource groups. Then, he said, companies should get engaged with their industry’s diversity initiatives and organizations.

Yinnan Shen
Yinnan Shen

Every business owner should also perform a “culture check” on the business to determine if diversity and inclusion goals are being met, said Yinnan Shen, who teaches Managing and Cultivating Cultural Differences at Columbia University and is an associate at the Logos Consulting Group, a corporate responsibility and leadership firm.

“No matter what kind of diversity you want to promote, it is always worthy to do a culture check first,” she said. “When it comes to generational diversity [for example], ask whether the culture inherently only attracts people of a certain age range. If the answer is yes, then you have a culture problem. And you won’t be able to see any changes in diversity until you change the culture.”

When looking to hire talent, don’t hire someone just like you. “Deliberately look for people with complementary skills who will challenge you,” said Kimer. “Don’t always take the most comfortable route.”

The Business Diversity Policy

Michael Bach
Michael Bach

A diversity policy is an important part of a business’s success, but it is only as good as how it is executed, said Michael Bach, author of the bookBirds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right” and the upcoming “Alphabet Soup: The Quintessential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion.” “If people are not following the rules laid out in the policy, then nothing will change,” he added.

A policy is like a road map, said Bach. It tells you the way things are done, and the way they are not. It should include as much information as possible to ensure it is easy to follow.

“Take the talent attraction process, for example,” Bach explained. “How are people hired in your organization? Is there a specific process, including panel interviews and standardized questions for every candidate? Or is it up to each hiring manager to determine their own process?” The latter, he said, allows significant room for bias-based behavior to come into the process.

It is also important to note that it should not just be one policy, said Bach. You should have a talent attraction policy, an accommodation policy related to people with disabilities, a religious accommodation policy, and so on. There’s no way, he said, that you can cover everything in just one policy.

A Diverse Staff Means Better Marketing

Employing a diverse staff means your company will understand the culture it is trying to market to and can be cognizant of the text and images being used for that outreach, said Ngome.

“Businesses need to be mindful of the images and messages that are displayed on their website and social media,” Ngome added. “Is it inviting to BIPOC communities? Hiring people of different ethnic groups helps bring in various perspectives to help with marketing and operations.”

Consider the imagery used to promote most spas and massage practices: A young, thin, white woman receiving massage in a luxurious environment. How might that change if diversity were considered when creating an ad campaign?

“With an increased focus on accountability related to diversity and corporate social responsibility, prospective clients are paying closer attention to those businesses that have a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion,” McClure said. “If diversity is not woven into everything the business does, including woven in marketing strategy as a priority, it may not attract and sustain new clients.”

Change Must Come from the Top

If we want to see diversity and inclusion become more prominent, the key is to get to the bottom of why it hasn’t been more prominent before now, said Shen.

“The root cause can almost always be traced back to the people who make decisions,” she said. “Is the leadership heterogeneous? Are diverse voices and perspectives included in planning processes? If not, a good starting point is to make sure you have diverse voices in the room where decisions are made.”

Senior leadership must commit to supporting a robust diversity and inclusion strategy’s execution, said Kimer, but lower-level employees must be trained in diversity and inclusion as well. “Line employees can scare away excellent, diverse talent by not respecting their co-workers and by mistreating diverse clients or customers,” he explained.

What doesn’t work when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion? Publicly proclaiming a commitment to diversity with nice words but not following through with meaningful action, said Kimer. The diversity experts who were interviewed for this article stressed the need for authenticity in diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

Window-dressing won’t cut it, explained Shen. “Yes, it’s good to have women and people of color sitting as part of your company,” she said. “But it’s more important to truly respect and value their input and understand why their presence is necessary.

According to Shen, the best way to promote diversity is to stop promoting diversity and promote inclusion instead. Diversity by itself doesn’t drive innovation or performance, she said—but inclusion does.

About the Author:

Karen Menehan

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, print and digital. Her recent articles include “This is How Hand Sanitizers Help Stop the Spread of Viruses & Bacteria,” “Connect with the Benefits of Nature for Self-Care” and “A Timeline of Massage Events that Shaped the Field, 1985-2020”.