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Columbia Business Monthly

Inclusivity Needs To Be More Than A Buzzword

Nov 30, 2017 10:10AM ● By Emily Stevenson
Dr. Kasie Whitener

Vocabulary in business is often a collection of clichés. For a while the key word was leverage by which the user meant to make use of some skill or advantage.

“We can leverage the resources we put into web design for the brochure.”

Another favorite was bandwidth, which, in computer terms, refers to the amount of data a connection can transmit. When used in business jargon, it means the capacity for work that a team might have.

“We cannot take that project on; we don’t have the bandwidth.”

The latest word to earn buzz in business is inclusive. Not in the we-paid-for-drinks-and-got-snacks-too kind of way, but in the sense that people feel welcome, invited, and like they’re part of the organization.

Inclusivity in business means there are a variety of voices, experiences, and backgrounds contributing to the organization’s decisions. Inclusivity means different races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities are influencing a company’s trajectory.

This past February, 1 Million Cups Columbia celebrated Black History Month with a panel of African American business owners discussing the business landscape in Columbia. Kevin “Big Redd” Felder, Christian Rap recording artist and owner of Be Unique Music; Darion McCloud, founder and creative director of the NiA Theatre Company; Micaela Pilar Brown, visual artist and consultant; and Terrance Smith, owner of Hacker Ferret Software, spoke candidly about race in the business community.

“Everything’s complicated by race,” said McCloud during that panel discussion. “It’s complicated. This room’s full of business people and I’m probably saying the same thing that you all feel. That’s probably the reason that you’re here. Sometimes Columbia feels like a big lock. And you’re searching for the right key. You’re just trying to figure it out.” 

Buzzwords like diversity and inclusivity are not going to unlock the complicated challenges we have in Columbia related to race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

“It takes a lot,” Felder said. “It takes being visible. It does feel like sometimes as a minority entrepreneur I have to do more. It does feel like there’s some next step that you have to push through or work around to achieve the same successes.”

When we support one another in discussions like the one held at 1 Million Cups, we create opportunities for inclusion. We model what inclusivity looks like by simply asking people to participate.

“We have a definition of racism as a kind of aggressive thing. But a lot of it, really, is about non-inclusion,” said McCleod. “One of the insidious things about racism is you’re just not included. You’re not thought about. You’re not talked about.”

The beautiful thing about entrepreneurship is that it has a universal element. All entrepreneurs experience the same tragic uncertainty, the same unmitigated risk, and the same doubt and determination. That’s what makes entrepreneurs a great community to address this question of inclusion.

In Kansas City at the Kaufman Foundation’s 1MC Organizers Summit in September, the subject of inclusion and diversity was met with confusion and concern. Organizers wanted to know how they could encourage better participation by marginalized groups. Race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation were all discussed as the divisions between us, with entrepreneurship as the cohesion. There is no set path for entrepreneurs, no specifically right way to do this. The uncertainty of it unites us.

“You go to things like this (1 Million Cups), and you read books, and you get with good people,” said Smith during February’s panel. 

Navigating entrepreneurship requires a community of like-minded daredevils. It’s easy to be inclusive when we know what we have in common is stronger than what differentiates us. 

“You look to people who are succeeding in the field and you model your career after what they’ve done,” said Brown. 

When you are charting your own path, you develop relationships in the areas where you need to be to be successful. 

Reaching out to others, welcoming them to contribute, to participate – that’s how we achieve inclusion. We must be willing to be changed by their presence, knowing that we will be better for it, that our businesses will be better for it, and that our community will be better for it.