An Inclusive Business: My Stories, and 6 Practical Steps To Take
Updated: Jun 20
I founded Babysitters Of Boulder with a simple purpose: to connect busy parents with trustworthy childcare providers. In the early stages, I was unaware of the challenges that would arise in matters of inclusivity. It was only when confronted with instances of discrimination that I began to grasp the complexities. I also came to realize that I had full authority to set the expectation for respectful treatment of my staff and my clients.
There have been positive moments of profound warmth and fulfillment when I could affirm and uplift someone, creating a supportive environment for both clients and staff. These moments remind me of the power we each possess to impact others and foster a sense of belonging. Alongside this, I've had experiences that opened my eyes to the pain and unjust treatment endured by LGBTQ+ people.
In one phone call, a new customer explicitly asked that her family not be matched with any babysitters who were gay. I was surprised that the parent behaved as though we shared an understanding. I found myself wondering why the parent thought that a business would know the sexual orientation of its employees. The parent seemed shocked when I declined to fulfill her request and informed her that we would be unable to work with her. As it turned out, she believed that she had the right to decline any babysitter based on her own personal criteria. Through experiences like these, I learned to discern the difference between a customer's rights versus their personal opinions, and the acceptable conduct required from customers who choose to engage with my business.
I am heterosexual and Caucasian, and these experiences revealed the social acceptance that comes along with these two identities, which I did not choose. I always attributed my success as a childcare provider to my dedication and my expertise in the field. Upon founding my business, I began to understand that being a woman inadvertently contributed to my success in this field as well, because parents more readily accepted and trusted me as their babysitter or nanny. Experiences like these acted as a catalyst, motivating me to fortify the inclusive framework of my business. These are 6 things I've learned and developed that might help your business, too:
1. Take charge of your education as the business owner. I was a teen in the early 2000s, when calling someone gay was a popular insult. Ubiquitous jokes about girls kissing and jello wrestling sent the message that pretending to be a lesbian was the one acceptable form of same-sex contact. Movies and TV shows depicting gay characters often focused on "coming out of the closet," and explored little else about the character. Although I never thought there was anything wrong with being gay, I also didn't have any gay friends, and I didn't feel like I knew how to relate to people with LGBTQ+ identities.
During a new hire orientation that included an LGBTQ+ individual, I realized that my thoughts were hyper-focused on their gender identity. I had unintentionally fallen into only seeing LGBTQ+ people as a group in need of my protection and affirmation, rather than getting to know someone as a multifaceted individual with their own agency and interests. In our efforts to support LGBTQ+ dignity, let us remember that it is not about "saving" anyone.
Here are some ideas that helped me gain a more comprehensive perspective:
There is no substitute for engaging in real conversations with people, too. However, your staff and your clients are not responsible for educating you, or for telling you what you might be doing wrong. For in-person resources:
You can contact Out & Equal, an organization working exclusively on LGBTQ+ workplace equality. Out & Equal offers live zoom engagement groups! They also have great toolkits and training resources.
2. Posting the rainbow pride flag at your business is a great visual, and it's just the start too. I have to acknowledge that my initial decision to post the rainbow pride flag to my website was a reaction to a customer email. The customer requested to see headshots of potential babysitters so that she could assess if they were "biologically" women or transgender women. This customer wanted to work only with "biologically female babysitters and no babysitters who feel that they are female." I felt insulted by the customer's assumption that all women share a common appearance that's identifiable in a photo. I was hurt by her disregard for qualified, caring childcare providers based solely on their gender identity. Finally, I was disturbed by this customer's inappropriate focus on the anatomy of my staff members. All of this anger compelled me to post the bright bold flag visual, indicating that I do not entertain such toxic behavior. Then, I began to learn more about what posting the rainbow pride flag means for your business.
Displaying this flag on your website's homepage can help you to engage the customers and applicants who share your inclusive values. When you publicly declare that your business supports and welcomes LGBTQ+ people, you need to:
Have a written anti-discrimination policy in place. A contract attorney and an employment attorney can help you.
Make the policy clear and explicit from the start of every customer relationship, in your staff application, and during new team member orientation.
Periodically reintroduce customers and staff to your company's values.
Give customers and staff a way to make a report with you if they believe that they have experienced discrimination.
Promptly address any report, using HR best practices. If your small business does not have an HR department, one effective solution is to contract an HR consultant who can provide guidance and teach you how to navigate such situations. Their expertise will help you understand the correct procedures and ensure that you handle reports of discrimination in a timely and lawful manner.
In addition to having an anti-discrimination policy included in your user terms of service, communicate your values through a Diversity & Inclusion Statement or D&I statement on your website. You can learn how to effectively draft one by exploring the resources provided here. My website publicly posts our values here.
3. Connect with an employment attorney in your state now, before you need them. Questions of discrimination will arise and you will need expert advice with a quick turnaround time. You want legal counsel with expertise on federal laws and your state's laws. Depending on your industry and state, there may be cases in which an employer or a customer is permitted to take gender into consideration. A legal firm will typically also notify you if a law is changing. Don't leave questions of discrimination to Google or your friends.
An attorney can help you draft an anti-discrimination policy for your customer terms of service and your employee handbook. The policy should include a clear explanation of the consequences for violating the policy, and outline the actions that may result in termination of a customer or an employee. If your business operates with reservations or bookings, it is important to specify the payment due in the event that a customer violates a policy and is subsequently terminated. This may help you to dismiss a customer when necessary without adversely affecting your staff members' income.
4. Prepare to walk away from some potential revenue as the business owner. At some point you may be asked to discriminate against someone and saying no will mean walking away from money. I'm not talking about a few minor transactions. It may involve turning down a lucrative contract worth thousands of dollars, or even turning down money that could have covered your mortgage payments for quite a while. Staying true to your values is the right choice. In time you will recoup that money by attracting customers who share your values.
5. Find your healthy way to say no to discrimination and move on. Early on, encountering discriminatory requests from customers stirred up so much anger and sadness in me. I contemplated giving up on my efforts to assist parents altogether. I had to come up with succinct, firm ways to say no and move on, focused on the positive aspects of my business. My older sister helped me a lot with this. Now, I even use chatGPT for help: I had it create an email template for notifying someone when they have violated our anti-discrimination policy.
You may receive calls from customers who seem to be ambiguously asking you to do something discriminatory, using language such as, "I think you know what I mean." In these situations I always ask the customer to clarify exactly what they mean. That way I am not jumping to a conclusion, and I am not giving the customer a pass on any attempt to make a veiled discriminatory request.
It is essential to remain firm in the face of discriminatory requests, even when customers attempt to evade accountability by offering justifications such as, "I was just raised differently than you," or, "It's not me, it's just that my kids haven't met a [insert label] person before and my kids will feel uncomfortable." While it may be tempting to empathize with their perspective or give them the benefit of the doubt, it is crucial to remember that discrimination has no place in your business.
6. Use Gender-Neutral Language in your company documents and your workplace conversations. Many of us tend to refer to certain things using gendered terms, as gender norms are embedded in our language. For instance, you might have reflexively said, "There goes the fireman!" when your baby pointed to a firetruck driving by. Similarly, I have asked a child if their mom helped them bake the cupcakes. I have asked a child if their dad built their playhouse. It is surprising how often we apply gender to activities, jobs, objects, and even pets. Notice these linguistic habits. They may be affecting your business communications and work relationships.
Especially in my field of childcare, it's common to think of parents as "mom and dad." This isn't sufficient even if a child doesn't have LGBTQ+ parents, because the child could have a single parent or be under the custody of a grandparent, other relative, a godparent, or a family friend. It's common to assume that babysitters, nannies, teachers, and daycare workers will be women and to use "she/her/hers" reflexively.
Here are some steps to incorporate gender-neutral language:
Review your client forms and documents. Replace gender-specific or relationship-specific terms with neutral terms such as customer, user, or guest.
Review your candidate application and your employee handbook. Remove terms such "he or she," and replace with terms such as team member or staff member.
Look for ways that documents reenforce gender stereotypes. For example:
A policy states, "Female team members should not wear nail polish or acrylic nails at work." Replace this with, "Wearing of acrylic nails or nail polish during a shift is not permitted."
A policy states, "Female team members may not wear perfume or strongly scented lotions." Replace this with, "Team members are not permitted to wear perfume, cologne, or strongly scented body products including lotions and hair products."
Your workplace dress code policy dictates length of skirts, dresses, or shorts for your female team members. Reword this policy into a comprehensive dress code that applies to every team member regardless of gender.
Use technology to invite clients and team members to share their identities. Example: our online client registration form allows clients to select their child's gender as: do not identify, male, female, transgender female, transgender male, nonbinary, other. Users can select more than one option, too. They can select any options that apply. Our staff application has the same section.
My experience as the founder of Babysitters Of Boulder has revealed the unexpected nature of discriminatory behavior, and the need for more than just a personal belief in LGBTQ+ equality. As business owners we require practical knowledge, protocols, and well-defined written policies to apply in our day-to-day operations. It is crucial to have access to proper HR resources and legal counsel, enabling us to respond swiftly and appropriately to instances of discrimination. Discriminatory behavior can catch you off guard and shock you. It can confuse you when it manifests in nuanced ways rather than presenting in black-and-white. We must share our experiences with our community of inclusive business owners because sharing will significantly enhance everyone's knowledge.
The LGBTQ+ rainbow pride flag icon graces the top of every page of my website. Today, I more clearly understand the significance behind posting that symbol. I am confident that I have the business measures in place to safeguard its meaning. I genuinely hope that the tools and ideas shared in this article prove beneficial to you, as they have been for me.
Owner & Founder, Babysitters Of Boulder