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5 Tips for Promoting Equality in a Small Business

Jan Sullivan

February 6, 2018
Jan Sullivan

Everybody’s talking about the power dynamic between men and women in the workplace and a culture that has enabled inequality between the genders. The entertainment industry especially has been under fire, with the New York Times publishing an article in January reporting on 51 men who have fallen from power in the wake of allegations against Harvey Weinstein. And that number has only gone up.

However, just last week this movement touched a major ad agency. Droga5 – the creative team behind the powerful and viral “He Said, She Said” ad – announced it had terminated chief creative officer Ted Royer, citing its commitment “to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all our employees,” amid an investigation into his conduct.

With so much workplace harassment coming to light in recent months, I have been reflecting on the policies and company culture of Princeton Partners. With so many voices being amplified, getting perspectives from the people on the front lines is important. We have been successful as a small business in fostering respect and professionalism among our tight knit team members, and I believe we have been able to achieve this for a few reasons.

 

  1. Culture

As the sole member of Princeton Partners’ HR team and the wife of the company’s CEO (more on that later), I am intimately familiar with the principles this company holds at its core. The first of those principles, as explained in our handbook, states “We will put people first – because people are precious.” This principle requires us to respect the value of the individual and listen when people speak up or speak out.

 

Additionally, culture is an incredibly important part of the hiring process. Not only do potential full-time employees meet the team prior to being hired, but they also sit down with me for a one-on-one conversation. I use this time to determine whether they fit not just the position, but also the company culture. To hire someone who didn’t hold the same values as Princeton Partners would be to do both the agency and the individual a disservice. This step in the hiring process helps keep our culture of respect alive and well.

 

  1. Perspective

I have been heading HR at Princeton Partners for 17 years. Before that I was working as a nurse and then a nursing administrator. I am a woman. My husband is the CEO of the agency. These things have all paved an important foundation for the way that I handle HR for our employees.

I believe having a female leader in HR makes the department more approachable and less intimidating, especially for women. Experience has shown me, that female employees appreciate that I’ve been in their shoes and can understand, to a degree, what they are going through.

This is part of the reason why we have always offered flexible schedules for parents. Princeton Partners is a family operated company. Because of this unique perspective, we are more understanding of the needs of working parents and their spouses.

 

  1. Confidentiality

We have an open-door policy at the agency. This means that my door is always open and what we discuss remains strictly confidential at the request of the employee. Putting up a wall between senior management and the HR department is an important tool for ensuring that employees feel safe reporting behavior that is inappropriate or questionable.

 

  1. Guidelines

At a family owned and operated company with a small team of employees, the line between friend and coworker can become blurred because of the tightknit culture. This is when very specific guidelines become an important resource. They need to be honored and enforced at small businesses to maintain professionalism in the office.

 

  1. Leadership and Support

My management style as a nurse was to lead with kindness. I try to live by this each day because I believe that kindness resonates with people and fosters a sense of trust. At Princeton Partners, our employees know that they have both my support and the support of the company’s leadership. This is a key to creating an environment that doesn’t tolerate harassment of any kind. Quite the opposite, we work to empower our employees in any way that we can and encourage them to live courageously and without fear.

We even put this in the handbook!

 

Fostering a safe and comfortable work environment needs to be a company priority if you want to create and maintain a safe, positive, and egalitarian culture. Evaluate your company’s foundational principles and reflect on how it’s played a role in the culture. It’s important for small businesses to take these steps if they want equality in the workplace.