This guest post from Phillipa Holland at Fellows and Associates explores the issues faced by smaller organisations trying to implement diversity and inclusion policies. Phillipa reflects on both the advantages and the disadvantages of a smaller, more tightly-knit team, and on the role of allies in ensuring that all team members feel included and supported.

Fellows and Associates are a recruitment firm who focus on finding intellectual property jobs predominantly for patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, IP lawyers and other intellectual property professionals. They are keen supporters of IP Inclusive, and signatories to our EDI Charter.

Phillipa writes:

Are the challenges of diversity and inclusion more or less pronounced in a smaller organisation?

No matter the size of the business, the importance of diversity and inclusion should be a consideration for all employers. This may be addressed on a macro scale for a large multi-office international business or by a simple policy covering the needs of a small company with one office (or somewhere in-between). It might be reasonable to assume that formulating and policing a simple policy is significantly more straightforward than managing a complex strategy, but is this necessarily the case? Could there be a danger that a smaller business has challenges of its own in respect to diversity that a larger corporation could more easily avoid?

Employers may well struggle to cover all the bases when it comes to building a more diverse work force when recruiting for a small organisation. Statistically it could be less likely that a high proportion of appropriate candidates will come from a variety of communities, for example BAME and LGBT+, when the hiring pool is much more concentrated. Of course, the outcome of this comes around by no fault of the employer but it could impact ongoing recruitment as candidates may be hesitant to join in the future if they cannot identify with other members of the team. There’s also a danger of the business neglecting to implement appropriate policies if there is no call for it from the current workforce. This is potentially an argument for encouraging allies across each and every organisation in the industry, who are able to champion diversity and be an advocate for change on behalf of all businesses, including those that are not particularly diverse perhaps due to their size for the reasons mentioned in this piece.

Concerns may not be voiced within a smaller organisation if it is perhaps seen as ‘rocking the boat’ and individuals may not feel they are able to raise their grievances when working in a close-knit team alongside those who are causing the friction. The benefit of a larger group may be that those who wish to speak out feel that they are protected/can blend in with other members of the team (and there is likely to be a wider range of opinions). However, in many small businesses close working relationships are fostered. These relationships can result in an opportunity for a much more open culture and an environment where conversations surrounding issues and potential conflict are encouraged, allowing an ongoing dialogue and concerns to be addressed if and when they occur.

In a business where those in the position of power have strong views there is a danger of these being disseminated down the ranks in all types of organisations, but in a smaller business, where there is less of a structured hierarchy and where such views may not be challenged as easily, these can be a lot more pronounced. One single voice may unintentionally (or even intentionally) colour the working ethos of the business with their own individual bias, as opposed to the collective voice of a larger management structure with multiple views and perspectives.

Friendships can naturally form between members of a team who work together and share similar interests. In a larger office environment with multiple teams working together and where there is more opportunity for ‘after work’ social activities and communities, it can be easier for individuals to find where they fit. However, in a smaller office with only a few team members this can be much harder and the few who perhaps do not share similar interests with the many can quickly feel singled out. On the other hand, if all members of a smaller team are able to form close social ties then the resulting environment could be incredibly inclusive.

It may be that a smaller business does not have the budget or resources needed in order to implement strategies for tackling issues, but it could be argued that it does not take a lot to be able to offer the support needed. Again, the importance of allies may be crucial here, where individuals who are passionate about representing their own/other communities may have more influence in a smaller environment where they do not need to shout as loud to be heard and jump through the many hoops in place at a larger organisation. Or, failing that, small companies could sign up to collective arrangements where allies outside of the organisation but within their industry sector could have an influence on their own diversity policies.

All in all, as long as there is an acknowledgement in all businesses that diversity and inclusion are very real and important topics that need to be considered, and there are allies in place to keep the thought processes in check, then I believe it doesn’t really matter what the size of the business is, but the individuals that make up its workforce – whether it be 10 or 1,000.


Page published on 11th March 2019
Page last modified on 21st March 2019
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