Increased Importance of the Owner

“In our experience, small businesses have a more…personal style of management.”

Nearly every successful small business owner has to have at least a hint of the “cult of personality.” It requires significant self-confidence to start a business. It takes even more to get employees, investors, and customers to believe that the goods or services they provide are better than others on the market. Running a successful small business generally requires some combination of charisma, strength of character, extraversion, and fortune. 

Once they have established themselves, many small business owners get into conservative mindsets, and that’s understandable. Not many small businesses make it; approximately 12-15% of small businesses fail every year, so to operate a successful one over four years means you have outlived half of all small businesses. Not many small businesses reach that milestone by replacing or reconfiguring the systems that found them success in the first place. Valid or not, this builds a sense that the way they do things is “right.” While this can be constructive when it comes to the importance of inclusion, we hypothesized that this type of conservatism would correlate with a decreased focus on the importance of LGBT inclusion. 

We did not find any evidence to support that hypothesis. On the contrary, even business owners who identified as politically conservative understood that the inclusive environment they fostered in their businesses and in their communities was vital to their success as an organization, and knew they had to be authentic in that development. 

Granted, we only spoke to small business owners who were willing to speak to us about LGBT inclusion, so there was definitely some selection bias—small business owners who actively disagree with the importance of LGBT inclusion would likely not have talked with us at all. However, both amongst themselves and the geographic communities they represented, many small employers believed that LGBT, and certainly overall, inclusion was instrumental to success. 

In our previous work, we argued that leadership was crucial to the success of LGBT inclusion at large businesses. That’s truer for small businesses, and it requires an authenticity from the top leader that takes real understanding that underpins a moral belief. Building that authenticity is where some of the small businesses struggled.