To move the diversity needle, organizations must make systemic changes. Here are five actions your organization can take to draw diverse talent and encourage them to stay.
by Michelle Sims
January 10, 2023
It is widely known that diversity in the workplace, and the inclusive practices to achieve it, contribute to corporate prosperity, increased productivity and employee well-being. Studies show more than 80 percent of companies engage in DEI initiatives – but are those initiatives making an impact?
In October 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the unemployment rate among Black workers was 5.9 percent and 4.2 percent for Latinx workers, compared to 3.2 percent for white workers. With millions of jobs going unfilled today, organizations cannot afford to ignore diverse and underrepresented talent. They must take a hard look at their DEI initiatives and answer the question, “Are we doing enough?” Symbolic statements and surface-level efforts won’t attract diverse candidates and certainly won’t convince them to stay.
Barriers to recruiting and retaining underrepresented talent
One of the most common barriers underrepresented talent face is language. This includes language used in the workplace and within job descriptions. DEI strategies mean nothing if rhetoric prevents diverse candidates from applying for jobs or drives them away shortly after they’re hired.
Underrepresented talent frequently encounter gendered language or characteristics in job postings that signal ignorance or veiled preferences. Jobs that appear inflexible or suggest an always-on culture can ostracize those who, for example, have children, care for elderly parents or face transportation uncertainties.
Within the workplace, microaggressions impact employee retention. More than one in four Black women have heard someone express surprise at their language skills or abilities; just one in 10 white women have had this experience. Unchecked microaggressions can foster isolation, fear and distrust.
Providing an avenue for feedback is also critical to making underrepresented talent feel welcome. Without safe methods for speaking up or giving feedback, behaviors are perpetuated and diverse populations can feel unseen and invalidated.
Companies must walk the talk and take action
To move the diversity needle, organizations must be willing to make systemic changes that have impactful results. Change is about more than words, it requires action. Here are five actions your organization can take to draw diverse talent and encourage them to stay.
1. Update job descriptions
It starts with a skill-based approach to hiring. Increasing numbers of early career talent are choosing certifications, training and apprenticeships over four-year degrees. Instead of a degree and years of experience in job requirements, consider relevant skills. When you require a four-year degree, you omit more than 60 percent of the working population. You also miss out on 70 percent of Latinx people, 73 percent of Indigenous people and 77 percent of Black people.
2. Offer benefits, resources and opportunities that matter
Diverse and multi-generational workforces require companies to reassess employee benefits such as:
- Free or reduced-cost social service resources
- Coaching and mentoring
- Wellness offerings
- Professional development
Provide new employees with an onboarding buddy from a similar background or someone who understands their unique challenges. Make sure they know where to turn when struggles arise or they’re in need of support.
3. Provide opportunities for feedback
It’s critical to provide opportunities for employees to share anonymous feedback outside of the traditional performance discussions. This empowers those who find individual, in-person conversations difficult, and is a way to gather the pulse of your entire organization through an inclusive mechanism. Comments can be solicited through:
- Employee surveys
- Anonymous hotlines
- Suggestion boxes
4. Be transparent and accountable
It is not enough to simply collect feedback, it must also be communicated and disseminated. Hold a company-wide meeting to discuss survey results and make them available for employees to view on their own time. Be honest about where the company falls short and what steps will be taken to improve. Commit to regularly pushing data that showcases company progress toward DEI goals.
Establish accountability within your organization. While the buck stops with the CEO, there should be layers of accountability. Create Employee Resource Groups and DEI councils. Ensure there is inclusive representation from the boardroom and the C-suite to middle-management and individual contributors.
If a commitment to diversity is not led at the executive level, with accountability for results, actions and behaviors expected at every level, organizations will be hard-pressed to live up to their commitments.
5. Champion pay equity
A diverse workforce means nothing if the deck is stacked against specific groups. Fairness is at the heart of equity and closing wage gaps is paramount to fairness and to addressing wage disparities for women and people of color. Be transparent about pay rates and ranges for all roles to ensure consistent pay practices across the organization. A compensation program that is equitable and implemented company-wide should stand on its merits, be easily explained by all and require no salary negotiations due to well-thought-out reasoning.
Take a deep dive into who receives promotions. Use internal rubrics for performance and development to inform promotion decisions and ensure promotional wage scales don’t perpetuate disparities. Look for biases that either intentionally or unintentionally drive these decisions. There should be no unfair promotional wage advantages due to power or internal politics, or you may be undermining pay equity.
Addressing pay equity in both hiring and retention for your workforce is key to building a total value proposition that attracts diverse candidates to your company and keeps them engaged, loyal and productive — all signs of a healthy corporate workforce.
Meaningful change drives business results
Research shows diverse organizations perform at higher levels, are more innovative, capture greater market share, generate more revenues and deliver higher profitability. But according to McKinsey & Co., even the most diverse companies still face difficulties tackling inclusion. This signals that hiring diverse talent isn’t enough; it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people remain and thrive.
When staff feel valued because of these strategies they are more likely to stay, refer others and strive to meet company goals. By taking incremental steps and efforts to remove barriers, offering benefits and resources that matter to all and cultivating a supportive and inclusive culture, organizations will begin to break through struggles to attract and retain talent and make meaningful progress toward organizational DEI goals.