Is BNI Inclusive?

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So there’s this BNI chapter whose members are exclusively in the financial field. There’s not one member in health or marketing or housing; it’s an entire chapter made up of Investors, Accountants, RESP specialists, Government Grant specialists, etc. Of course, the group didn’t deliberately plan to exclude anyone and it’s not like they didn’t try inviting other business categories from time to time. It just happened that the financial people in the group naturally interacted more with their fellow financial people and therefore thought of them first when inviting visitors. Over time, the cycle of finance attracting more finance became the norm, giving the chapter a distinctively ‘financial’ character so that when the occasional graphic designer or florist visited, the vibe in the room subtly told them they didn’t quite fit in. The end result was a chapter of well-intentioned professionals all within the same sphere who, without meaning to, had created a narrow private club.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to be part of that chapter because, as BNI members, we know that having a greater diversity of business categories translates into a greater number of referrals. Aside from being unfair to everyone else, we also know that by turning their chapter into a clique, those finance people unwittingly threw away a ton of opportunity by keeping their doors closed.

Ready to ditch the metaphors? Okay, let’s tackle this subject head-on: While BNI would never exclude businesses, are we subconsciously excluding people? Without meaning to, have we developed a habit of inviting and inducting people who look and sound like us, creating chapters that unintentionally make visitors with different skin colours and ethnicities feel like they don’t fit in?

It’s time to ask these tough questions because the last few weeks have brought racial perception and bias to the top of the news cycle. Some of our neighbours, friends, and co-workers are questioning whether their culture has been given full membership within North America’s ‘private club’. Anger, fear, and suspicion have bubbled to the surface. It’s our responsibility as an organization and as individuals to ask ourselves what role we play during this pivotal time. Are you part of a chapter that’s become a private club? If so, what can you do to open the doors? Are you on the outside? If so, what can you do to ensure your voice is heard? It all starts with the questions, which then must be followed by actions.

The first action you can take is to look at the faces in your chapter. What do you see? The familiar faces of your fellow members and a few new faces of your weekly visitors. But among the many faces you see regularly, is there a notable absence of faces from one part of the colour spectrum? If that’s the case, ask yourself how it evolved in that way and what can be done to change it. Don’t do it because you’re being judged or because it’s being imposed on you, but because it’s an opportunity.

You joined BNI for the opportunity to turn a room full of strangers into a source for business referrals, and for most of you the opportunity paid off big-time. But those benefits required an investment of time and a leap of faith. When you first met, there was no way to predict which members would become your most trusted contacts and who would become personal friends. Had you known then what you know now, you would’ve taken that leap earlier.

So why not get ahead of the curve this time? Why not recognize people from different cultures as the next opportunity to turn strangers into business contacts and good friends. If you notice the faces in your chapter are stuck in a cycle of sameness, the first thing you can do is bring it up with your Membership Committee. Explain the disadvantages of being that private club of financial people, and when they don’t get the metaphor, point out that they’re missing opportunities to develop business relationships with a variety of untapped markets. The more culturally diverse the BNI chapter, the more cultures there are for members to be introduced.

And if your chapter already reflects a diversity of cultures, great. Diversity among your fellow members gives you a big advantage. Thanks to those members from different cultures, you have solid inroads to doing business with groups and nationalities beyond your own. Each group and each nationality represented in your chapter is a new field in which members can be planting seeds.

BNI preaches about the power of the collective, the value of supporting each other, building relationships, and farming overhunting. It’s a recipe for inclusiveness, and it’s built into our mandate. However, BNI isn’t made up of recipes, but by members. It will be you who decides whether inclusiveness is a worthy goal, and if so, how much you’re willing to do to reach it. Making your BNI chapter more welcoming to people of different skin colours, beliefs, and cultures won’t change the world, but it will bridge a gap in your corner of the world. And once you see the tangible benefits you’ll gain, the hope is you’ll be motivated to continue bridging more gaps. “Givers Gain” is a philosophy BNI adopted as a way to create more wealth, but in this case, it may be the philosophy for creating a slightly nicer, more inviting society.

BNI ’s mission is to help members increase their business through a structured, positive and professional referral marketing program that enables them to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals.

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