Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at email@example.com and she’ll answer them here.
Q: Our firm isn’t the most diverse in the industry, but I’m struggling with how to change that. I don’t want us to appear not genuine, for lack of a better way of putting it. Any suggestions?
First of all, congratulations on realizing that this is a problem and seeking advice on how to remedy it. You’ve just taken the hardest first step.
Now, please worry less about how you appear and more about how you are. Why isn’t your firm more diverse already? Spend some time asking yourself that question. Really sit with and think about your answers.
When, and only when, you’re convinced that your motives are pure, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and pay somebody to help you figure this out. There are tons of DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) consultants in the world who get paid good money to deal with bumbling questions from well-meaning “allies.”
If you’re really committed to assembling a diverse team, you’ll want to think about executive hires first. It’s not a good look to pull up a firm’s team page to see that the only “diversity” represented is at the entry or admin level. And while you’re thinking about who you can bring in, make sure you also spend some time thinking about who can/should step back. A firm only needs so many people sitting in the C-suite. Some hard conversations and decisions likely lie ahead. Diversity isn’t a goal that you’re going to achieve overnight, so settle in for the long haul.
In the meantime, please don’t do that thing where you go around telling people you’re looking for a (insert marginalized identity here) partner. That doesn’t make you appear genuine in your efforts to do anything except make yourself look better and maybe gain yourself opportunities to pitch business to organizations that require woman or minority ownership.
One final note: most folks who carry traditionally marginalized identities can spot tokenism a mile away. Nobody wants to be feel like they’re being offered a career opportunity because of their gender or race or sexual orientation (if you don’t believe me, just introduce the concept of privilege into a conversation with a successful straight white dude). Tread very, very carefully when talking about your newfound commitment to diversity as you proceed.
Q: I didn’t negotiate a “divorce” agreement with my partners, but I’m thinking about retiring. My concern is that if I tell them too early, I won’t be able to leave on my own terms. What’s your advice for how to make a graceful exit?
A: Don’t say anything else to anyone about this before you speak to your lawyer. But, you know, maybe not the same lawyer you hired to draft your initial operating agreement because this, really, should’ve been covered there.
Anytime you’re planning a premature exit from a business arrangement (and yes, this does include marriage), it’s always best to retain counsel and go over all of your options, possible outcomes, and contingency plans before you make any decisions. Or God forbid, announcements.
This isn’t about blindsiding anyone. It’s about making sure you’ve thought your plan through and made the best decision for you before you drag anyone else’s emotions into it. That way, when you’re ready to tell your partners, you’ll be able to stick to your talking points and make the cleanest possible exit, no matter how they react.
It’s best to stay professional and stick to business in your initial conversation, and in every subsequent one until your exit agreements are negotiated and signed. You’ll all have plenty of time to go back and emotionally process together as friends once the legal stuff has been handled.
Q: Before the pandemic, we were planning to open our first satellite office outside of the DC area. It was a big investment, but we expected it to bring in significant new business. Now, we’re thinking we can do it remotely, with some occasional fly-ins — are we being too ambitious?
I think you’re being appropriately cautious. The commercial real estate marketing is heating all the way back up as everyone plays musical chairs in the Great Reshuffling. Small companies are going fully remote, and larger companies are making a play for smaller “hybrid” spaces to save money as employees push for flexible work arrangements. And finally, after a year-plus of nobody being able to do anything about the big empty office spaces they were paying for, subleases are going like hotcakes.
So, if you know for sure that you’re ready to lock in a lease for the next several years, right now is absolutely the time to jump into the fray and start throwing elbows to get your company the kind of deal that we’re not going to see again for a long, long time.
But if this is an experiment, and you’re not 100 percent sure that your investment in a satellite office is going to pay dividends, you’re right to play it safe right now and see if you can pull it off remotely. You can buy a lot of airfare, hotel rooms and business dinners for the cost of the monthly rent on a commercial space.