Business ideas for 2021: Diversity and inclusion businesses

The call for inclusive environments that promote equality continues to grow louder. Discover why 2021 is the right time to start a business in this vital space

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The impact that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has had on society in 2020 has been undeniable. From corporate communications to individual decisions, discussions about racial equality have permeated many aspects of daily life.

While race has understandably been the focus most recently, diversity and inclusion incorporates many other aspects of identity too. This includes age, disability, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and more, as highlighted by the CIPD (a global professional body for the HR sector) in its explanation of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Indeed, diversity and inclusion continues to develop beyond these more widely recognised aspects, such as with the growing societal awareness of neurodiversity. This is a term used to recognise how people may differ in terms of how their brain functions, and includes conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia.

Diversity and inclusion also takes into account the concept of intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. And while it was originally created in a US context to discuss the experiences of black women, it’s since expanded to encompass a wider range of identities. The term refers to how people can experience discrimmination or disadvantage based on the multiple social categories that they identify with, such as class, gender and race, and how these are connected.

But how can organisations – and society more generally – achieve greater equality? That’s where diversity and inclusion businesses step in.

We’ve already highlighted inclusive children’s products as a 2019 business idea, and wrote about inclusive beauty in 2018. Although these are still important aspects, we think there’s opportunity for an even broader range of diversity and inclusion businesses going forward.

Read on to learn why 2021 is the year to launch a business focused on diversity and inclusion, and to explore the potential opportunities…

Want to read about more top business ideas? Check out the full list of the best business ideas for 2021

Why is diversity and inclusion a good business idea?

In 2020, the death of George Floyd led to major discussions about, and action against, racial inequality, while the BLM movement gained unprecedented momentum. In the UK, 2020 also marked the 15th year since the launch of LGBT History Month. And looking further back in recent years, the introduction of gender pay gap reporting has thrust issues surrounding equal pay directly into the spotlight.

Social media has also had a big part to play in putting conversations about diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda. During the BLM protests in summer 2020, people across the world used various networking platforms to show their support. The Pride in London Twitter account has gone on to accrue 83,000+ followers, while Kimberlé Crenshaw (who created the term intersectionality, as mentioned above) has 135,000+ Twitter followers at the time of writing.

But it’s not only on social media that calls for more inclusive societies have been made. For example, the BBC reported on how post-lockdown measures didn’t take the needs of disabled people into account.

These are only a few examples of how diversity and inclusion has become a top priority. And one area in which this has been especially significant is in business – Forbes, for example, named hiring a diversity manager as one of the key ways that businesses can improve diversity and inclusion at work.

Adding to this, the CBI London Business Survey 2020 saw workplace diversity and inclusion, in particular reducing inequality, as one of the key concerns for the capital. The CBI is a UK membership organisation, representing 190,000 businesses. It also helped to launch the Change the Race: Ratio initiative in October 2020, which focuses on improving racial equality at board and senior leadership levels.

Some of the biggest businesses have highlighted their plans to improve inclusion as well. For example, ITV appointed a group director of diversity and inclusion in 2020, making it the first business on the FTSE100 to have a director specifically focused on diversity on its board.

Plus, Bupa and Mitie are two examples of big UK businesses that made it into the top 10 of the Inclusive Companies 2020/2021 rankings. To get a spot in this list, the organisations had to demonstrate best practice across multiple aspects of diversity, such as age, disability, gender, and more. This included providing evidence about recruitment and training, as well as staff data.

One of the ways that businesses can benefit from having a more diverse and inclusive workforce is in financial performance. For example, there was a 25% increase in the likely profitability of companies with executive teams in the upper quartile for gender diversity compared to those in the lower quartile.

Plus, executive teams that were more ethnically diverse had a 36% increase in the likelihood of financial outperformance, when comparing organisations in the bottom and top quartiles for ethnic diversity. This is according to the Diversity wins: How inclusion matters report published by McKinsey in 2019.

However, with Google accused of institutional racism, it’s clear that more needs to be done to make environments that are as inclusive as possible.

Yet there are some signs of change. At the time of writing, ‘diversity and inclusion’ had more than 5,000 searches on average a month, with particular interest over the past 12 months happening towards the end of September 2020 and the start of October 2020. As National Inclusion Week also took place around then, this could offer one possible explanation for the increased interest.

Plus, ‘diversity training’ had been searched on average 1,000 times a month, and had the most interest in early to mid-November 2020, when looking at the past 12 months.

This suggests high demand for people wanting to learn more, with ‘diversity and inclusion jobs’ also garnering 1,000 average searches a month, and interest at its highest around mid-June 2020 in the last 12 months. As well as this, it suggests that there are professionals out there looking for work that’s related to diversity and inclusion. So how can you start a business in this space?

Diversity and inclusion: Business opportunities

You could become a diversity and inclusion consultant, advising on strategy and best practice for businesses. This could be with a general approach, working across many sectors, or you might focus on a particular industry.

Diverse Matters specialises in offering consultancy services for the voluntary and public sectors. Alternatively, it’s possible to concentrate on a certain aspect of inclusion, like Genderscope, which is a dedicated gender consultancy company.

Another area is diversity and inclusion training, which involves teaching organisations and people about matters of equality. Understandably, diversity and inclusion training tends to be delivered from a HR perspective. However, with social media playing such a big part lately, this is one area that could be made more inclusive, in terms of the content that’s being posted.

Although a quick search for ‘diversity and inclusion social media’ brings up a range of articles advising on this subject – such as SproutSocial’s guide to creating a long-term inclusive social media strategy – it seems that offering training on creating inclusive content for social media could be another opportunity.

But instead of focusing on a specific skill, you could create a business that promotes inclusivity in a certain sector, such as technology, which is well-known for its lack of diversity. Indeed, only 22% of tech directors are women, according to research published by Tech Nation.

Harvard Business Review has also recommended testing for biased technology as a way of ensuring successful diversity and inclusion efforts. Besides looking at personnel, a business could focus on making its actual products, systems and tools more inclusive.

You could create a tech company that promotes diversity and inclusion. One technology startup that’s taking on this issue is Swyg, which uses a combination of feedback from real people, along with AI, to remove bias during the recruitment process.

Similarly, Sixley uses technology to manage the process of gathering referrals to recruit candidates for job vacancies, including its ClearTalent option to help people reach diverse and specialist networks.

Another aspect to explore could be a business that provides mentoring for people from diverse backgrounds. An example of this is my2be, which can be used to offer mentoring opportunities for people from under-represented communities. It offers a way to remotely manage connection, engagement and development for people, via an online platform.

Increasing inclusive representation in marketing materials and adverts is also an ongoing issue. Starting a company that focuses on making media which reaches a more diverse range of people is certainly a possible business opportunity – as evidenced by Brand Advance, a media network which made the Startups 100 in 2019.

Securing funding is a major challenge for people from under-represented communities when starting businesses. There are venture capital (VC) firms that focus on making changes in this sector, though, with ImpactX being one such example. Work towards equality is much-needed in this space, and so there’s opportunity for more VC firms with similar missions to start up.

Diversity and inclusion: Insider opinion

Stephen Frost is the founder of global diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included and co-author of new book Building An Inclusive Organisation, published by Kogan Page. Frost comments: “Diversity is a reality – all the different people out there. Inclusion is bringing them together. The idea is the output is more than the sum of the parts, – that bringing in as much different talent to your business as you possibly can is not simply additive, but catalytic.

“Diverse businesses attract diverse talent – it’s a virtuous circle. It’s also an idea whose time has come. People refusing to adapt, change, or diversify are in many cases in denial of reality. Having a thought-through point of view on remote working, race, and innovation makes your business increasingly relevant. People want to work for organisations that are authentic, where they can be themselves, and that have a purpose.

“The very essence of entrepreneurialism is ideas. In order to cultivate those ideas and turn them into reality, you need diversity, and you need to be inclusive. Regardless of day-to-day politics and news cycles, diversity and inclusion is enjoying its own Kondratieff Wave – and whatever your business, it’s always good to be ahead of the market.”

Written by:
Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.
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