Diversity and inclusion (DNI) have become necessary missions for most businesses. Research shows that diverse teams are more productive and engaged—and the companies that create them more profitable.
However, creating a truly diverse and inclusive workforce takes much more than locating and tapping into a diverse hiring pipeline. According to a recent study in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), organizations of all sizes have made precedented investments in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the past few years.
That same report, though, found those efforts are not finding the level of success companies had hoped for. The disappointment is not with recruitment, however, it’s with employee retention.
“In a lot of organizations, especially in tech organizations, you get a revolving door,” says Stuart McCalla, managing partner at Evolution. “People come in and then they leave.”
As you can imagine, that’s expensive and frustrating for everyone involved. So, what can you do?
Here are seven practices that can help fine tune your DNI efforts and create a culture you can be proud of:
- Set goals and track them
You can’t really know how well you are doing at building the inclusive environment you want if you don’t set goals and measure your progress against them. Yet, according to the HBR study, 60% of companies report that they have a DEI strategy but gender representation goals (26%) and race representation goals (16%) are infrequently part of it.
These are not recruitment goals, but rather representation goals. Maybe you hired a diverse team for entry-level positions. But where are they now? Did they get promoted and build diversity in your management team? Or did they leave because there was no opportunity for advancement or the company culture didn’t make them feel welcome?
You can use data to identify these issues and prioritize where you need to implement programs, offer training and focus your efforts. “If you examine the average tenure of an underrepresented group and discover that it’s less than a year or two, aggregate the exit interview data for that group,” explains McCalla. “If 35% of those folks say they left for a better opportunity, 45% say they were unable to progress in their career and 20% say their manager didn’t understand their experience, what should you focus on?”
Knowing your goals and how you are performing against those goals gives you a workable plan for improving what needs attention.
- Work internally before recruiting
Like many DNI experts, Luan Lam, chief people officer at Harness.io, is a strong advocate of starting a company with a DEI plan already in place. “If you set your intention from the beginning, it builds a framework you can fine-tune as you go along,” he says.
In this way, DEI isn’t an afterthought. It’s baked into everything from office design to hiring to pay to processes. “That way, there isn’t a lot of cleaning up to do. You set your intention. You put a plan in place. And you execute against that plan,” he says.
That’s great advice for startups, but if your company is not a startup, it’s still important to fix your culture before you recruit. You can’t hope that the new hires—simply through their presence—will single-handedly repair your company culture. “Internally organized inclusion efforts often fall informally on people from diverse backgrounds,” explains Cassandra Shapiro, global head of DEI at Reaktor. “That is extra labor for people who are already facing unequal opportunities or barriers that are invisible to people from the majority. If organizations don’t find a way to formalize inclusion efforts before they start bringing in more people, people from marginalized backgrounds will not be interested in shouldering that burden and will leave.” Recruiting a team without assuring them that they will be included by your culture is a waste of your resources and efforts.
- Create conversations
Creating forums like Slack groups, employee resource groups and educational opportunities is a great place to start to establish environments where people can tell their stories. This can be simple to implement and powerful: Invite experts to speak about topics around equity or diverse experiences. Create places where people feel comfortable sharing their story, and where others are encouraged to listen and respond. “If we encourage safe forums for speaking up, we can create a sensitive and mature approach to discussing injustice,” says Nichelle Grant, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Siemens USA. “We can create a dialogue that strengthens our organizational culture and builds a more resilient organization as a whole.”
Creating these channels of inclusion are important for the people who are already there, but they also go a long way towards creating a place that is welcoming for new team members. If a neurodiverse person—or a Black woman or trans man—arrives and discovers a Slack channel or an employee resource group already exists with a community of like people talking openly to each other, they are more likely to feel welcome.
- Keep your leaders accountable
Managers can have direct influence on the experience of people on their team, so it’s important that they hear stories of diversity and inclusion as well. Unfortunately, leaders are often the last to hear from unhappy team members, especially if they are seen as the problem. Leaders are also the gatekeepers for promotion, so when they make decisions that are influenced by unconscious bias, it has a ripple effect on the culture.
The HBR report found that for DEI goals to succeed, executives and leaders must be held accountable to them. Yet most DEI plans don’t do this. Only 28% of companies hold C-suite executives accountable for progress against the DEI strategy, 23% for pay equity, 12% for gender diversity and 5% for racial and ethnic diversity. A mere 7% of companies hold execs accountable for gender diversity in promotions, and 5% are accountable for racial and ethnic diversity in promotions.
Having a clear process and stated criteria for advancement, according to a report from Culture Amp, can move responsibility and decision-making power away from managers so employees’ path to greater opportunity remains unbiased.
John Marcante, CIO-in-residence at Deloitte, experienced how hard it is to see the world through a lens that is not your own while attending an employer-hosted diversity and inclusion event when he was the CIO at Vanguard. “I sat next to a Black executive, and we started sharing stories,” he says. “At the time, my son was learning to drive. We got into a conversation about the stories Black parents tell their sons—especially about keeping their hands on the wheel and not reaching for the glove compartment—as an officer approaches the car. I’ve never taught my son anything like that. It hit me so hard. That was my first understanding that life is very different.”
Understanding how different the lens is for underrepresented groups is a great start. No one can be passionate and engaged in solving a problem they can’t see.
- Utilize an effective feedback system
People who experience bias are often hesitant to tell leaders what’s wrong. Trying to overcome the feeling that nothing will be done about it, that there will be backlash against them and that speaking up is dangerous to their career is an integral part of living life as an underrepresented group. “Finding avenues for people to speak directly to you while removing any potential backlash they might feel is so important,” says Shapiro.
Even something as simple as an anonymous Google form where people can say what they need can help. Even better—solicit feedback through anonymous surveys and feedback tools so you aren’t waiting for someone to find the courage to speak about something that’s wrong.
Without those sorts of listening posts, and even perhaps with them, you will rely heavily on exit interviews to course correct your efforts. Solicit feedback in those exit interviews and encourage exiting employees to be candid so you can get better data to measure against your goals, change your culture or leaders, expand DEI programs, and clarify systems around pay, equity and advancement.
- Consider culture and keep out assumptions
Because life is so different for various sections of the population, it’s important to examine policies and cultural norms that enforce one culture while potentially excluding others. For example, if you have a dress code and ban things like tattoos or piercings, or require people to come to the office at specific times, you may be excluding members of underrepresented communities that you want to hire, and be preventing them from bringing their entire self to work. “How can you encourage people to be authentic if you’re not allowing them to show off their tattoos or piercings and things like that?” asks Adriana Gascoigne, founder and CEO at Girls in Tech. “Do you enable people to be themselves when it comes to their thoughts and feelings? Do you encourage them to generate ideas and come to brainstorms and say what they feel? That is all part of being authentic.”
Most people from underrepresented groups can tell stories about having to change, or hide, who they are to be considered for opportunities and advancement. “Starting my career at a high-profile social networking company, back in 2008 and 2009, I would go into something I called man mode,” says Gascoigne. “I was climbing the ladder, surrounded by men. The only way I could be respected was if I wore pantsuits, talked in a lower voice, didn’t say anything funny and was very curt. I had to have lots of slides with numbers and stats. This is very different than who I am as a person.”
Overall, women leave the workforce—especially those in leadership roles—in much higher numbers than men. If your data shows a high attrition rate for women, those women know why they are leaving. Listen to their why and make it your mission to improve.
- Let your DEI executive take the lead
In the past five years, there has been a 71% increase worldwide in all DEI roles, according to LinkedIn data. But the HBR study found that more work is still needed when it comes to listening to the DEI team. It found that 58% of companies have a budget dedicated to DEI but only 21% have a senior role dedicated to this effort. Only 9% have a DEI leader who sits at the same level as other executives. And only 12% of those DEI leaders have a team working for them.
Empower your diversity people, listen to them and give them people to help execute their plan. That will give your DEI effort, according to a recent Time report, “an enterprise-wide mindset and a seat at the decision-making table.”
“Companies can’t just talk about their mission around diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Marcante. “We have to be adamant about getting the message out that we are committed to diversity—at all levels of the company. We are committed to transparency and equal pay.
“Actions matter, too,” he continued. “Are the senior leaders sponsoring employee resource groups and diverse talent? Does the diverse talent in the organization get access to senior leaders? How diverse is your senior leadership team? That’s the only way we change this.”
Sources: Cio.com, Harvard Business Review, Culture Amp