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How to Handle Racism in a Small Business
January 24, 2024
black owner in food truck taking order

5 Ways to Curb Racism in Your Small Business

Following the news that COVID-19 first appeared in China, prejudice against the Asian community increased across the US. Stop AAPI Hate recorded about 2500 incidents of racism in March 2020, with California accounting for 46% of the cases. Most of these cases were verbal harassment, physical assaults, shunning, and business vandalism.

As a small business owner, it’s vital to learn how to handle racism, particularly when you have a diverse team. Incidents of racism and sexism can affect your employees’ morale and performance, hurting productivity and stifling creativity. Plus, employees are even at high risk when an incident turns violent.

Knowing how to handle racism in a small business can go a long way in protecting your employees and businesses. Here are the steps you can take:

1. Stay Calm & Avoid Overreacting

While staying calm when negative remarks are directed to you is challenging, remaining professional and avoiding rage is advisable. In some cases, unruly customers become more aggressive when you respond angrily, aggravating the situation.

If you fear the situation is likely to escalate, it’s better to walk away. Ask a colleague or coworker to take over or tell the customer you’ll call them back and hang up the phone. Staying calm helps to defuse the situation, allowing you to avoid reacting against the person or going down to their level.

2. Listen to Your Employees

Being a victim of racial abuse can be traumatic to some employees. They might feel unwanted and disrespected, impacting their performance and leading to absenteeism. So, employees need to have safe spaces to share their experiences freely, especially when racist remarks are aimed directly at them.

Don’t overlook such incidents, however minor. Be sure to get back to them with the appropriate actions you intend to take as a company. This way, employees will feel safe--it shows that the management is serious about their wellness and safety. Thus, this will foster great relationships and improve workplace practices.

3. Create a Robust DE&I Strategy

Today, companies are pushing for diversity and inclusion in their teams. While this is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough without a robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) strategy. Employees are more likely to feel safe when clearly defined cultural values protect them from racial slurs and abuse.

The ideal values don’t unconsciously assume that “The customer is always right.” But they create an inclusive environment that both customers and employees are obligated to respect. Note that DE&I is not just for internal processes, but it’s more effective when integrated into the daily flow of work and customer experiences.

4. Fire Repeat/Unruly Customers

In recent years, there have been lots of trending videos on social media showing bigoted customers blatantly insulting workers. Some small business owners even get racist emails from clients. The truth is, it gets to a point where you can longer turn a blind eye to such situations.

Regardless of the value of a customer, it might be sensible to part ways professionally. It’s wise to protect the mental health of your employees rather than trying to hold on to a high-value client that has no respect whatsoever for your workers. FindLaw notes that business owners can ban disturbance-causing and employee-harassing customers.

5. Develop an Anti-Racism Culture

The fight to end systemic racism starts from the top. The executive team needs to deliver an anti-racism culture by restructuring workplaces to advance racial inclusion and equity. This can only be successful if the top-level management buys in and commits to a racially safe workplace.

It’s possible to create an anti-racism culture by changing the hiring practices, offering ongoing training, ensuring equal opportunities, and promoting employee participation. Ideally, it’s about making conscious decisions that prioritize employee well-being and foster shared values in the workplace.

Build a Racially Safe Workplace

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy, yet Black and AAP1 entrepreneurs endure relentless racist hurdles that impact several areas of their operations. It may seem intractable, but racism in a small business is addressable with the right incentives, investment, and information.

Ideally, it’s a long-term process, which involves ongoing employee training, listening to employees’ experiences, and developing a robust DE&I strategy. The management should lead anti-racist efforts and encourage everyone to speak out against racist workplace practices or incidents. You should also train employees to handle racially abusive customers or clients without losing their nerve.

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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