As we enter the final stretch of 2021, many businesses have focused on how to move forward in the wake of what has come to be known as the “Great Resignation.”
In July 2021 alone, 4 million Americans quit their jobs. By the end of the month, there were 11 million open positions and a variety of employers stuck looking in the mirror, wondering where they went wrong and where people were going.
The trend has seen much of the gains made by diversity initiatives take a hit as people examine what they want from life and their careers. Many employees no longer wish to deal with commutes, unreasonable hours, the stress of corporate life or office politics. For underrepresented groups specifically, the pandemic has hit their communities hard, and many simply don’t see what they want for their futures in their current workplace as it currently stands.
Retaining diverse talent is directly tied to maintaining the productivity of the teams that make up your organization. As companies contemplate talent retention in general, or in some cases, expand the retention focus to include a contingent workforce, the prioritization of diversity and a culture of inclusion can’t fall by the wayside.
Focus on the Experience
The pandemic has been something of an awakening for many people in the workforce. Working from home showed a lot of people how much of their lives were spent commuting, and as people got sick or lost family members to the virus, they began to think about the finite nature of life and what they ultimately wanted from it.
For many people, the realization that they weren’t happy in their work or with their current employer and needed to do something about it was enough to motivate a change. Now more than ever, if people aren’t pleased with how they’re treated, what a job does for their professional development, the flexibility it provides and their compensation, it won’t be long before they hand in their notice.
From the moment they start to the termination of their employment, the experience of working at your company will drive loyalty, engagement and the integrity of your employer brand. This turnover journey is doubly true for employees from diverse backgrounds. They’ve seen the pay data and the opportunities out there, and they know the talent and skills they possess. If you don’t value them, someone else will. If you don’t create a culture that allows them to be themselves and be heard and respected, they’ll simply move on.
In an era where social consciousness is growing, people are coming to understand the bigger picture around organizational cultures, their long-term prospects, and what diversity brings to the table. This reality isn’t even limited to underrepresented groups and is true for all employees. If people look around and don’t see diverse colleagues, questions start to arise around the organization’s values and whether this is the type of workplace where employees can see themselves in the years to come.
When attempting to overhaul employee experience, many companies focus on technology that can make someone’s job easier. While important, technology should also be leveraged to regularly gain a better sense of how employees feel at work, be it through surveys or regular face-to-face check-ins with remote employees.
Technology is also valuable in gathering data around employee sentiments and providing access to services for mental health, financial counseling, learning and development and ERGs. Ensuring access to the full range of resources your company offers will help you ensure that employees feel invested in and connected to the organization across all levels.
Have Equity Conversations
A major focus of social justice movements has been equity. Going beyond how your organization treats underrepresented groups, it’s time to address how they are compensated and ensure pay aligns with their role and importance to the organization.
Digging into your data to understand where you can do better in terms of representation across all levels of the organization and pay will help equity conversations. To drive inclusion, bring people from underrepresented groups into the conversation to find out what equity means to them and to better understand how you can level the playing field. It may not be tied to money in all cases, but there’s likely an area where improvement is not only possible but needed.
Notably, employees trust other employees know what diversity, equity and inclusion efforts should look like. According to a 2020 study from Glassdoor, 66% of employees say they trust each other around this subject more than senior leaders, recruiters or the company’s communications and marketing teams. Bringing them into the conversation around equity and using the insights gleaned from it to drive your strategy will lend an air of credibility and inclusiveness that will be missing if it’s left to leadership alone.
As part of this, you’ll want to understand the experience that diverse employees have during the hiring and onboarding process and look to make improvements so that future hires don’t have to overcome the same biases or develop negative impressions of the organization from the start.
As KeyBank (No. 23 on The DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021) noted in a recent blog post, when it comes to having equity conversations, “the driving force of each conversation is consistent — the participants. Their unique perspectives will influence the dialogue. That’s why it’s important to know your ground when entering the conversation and respect that everyone else may have a different foundation based on their upbringings, mindsets and experiences. Ask yourself, ‘What unconscious biases am I bringing forward that will affect my engagement with the group?’”
Help Define Growth and Promote Diverse Leaders
Amidst talks of equity is another question of how diverse employees are promoted through the ranks at your organization and whether they see themselves reflected in leadership.
At Capital One (No. 28 in 2021), a commitment to diverse leadership has been shown not only in the company publicly sharing their diversity data but also at the board level, more than half of which is occupied by women or ethnically diverse employees.
Many companies have undergone efforts to transform their leadership profile in recent years with underwhelming progress for women and minorities. Whichever way you decide is the best going forward for your organization, make sure accountability and transparency in that journey are front and center. It’s easy enough to make the public statements and say the right words, but these days, if people can’t see it in your actions, they won’t hesitate to take their talents to a company where diversity initiatives are taken seriously.
This sentiment is particularly true among workers under the age of 40 or Millennials and Gen Z employees. The National Association of Colleges and Employers asked new graduates to rank the importance of a diverse workforce every year since 2008. The list has grown in significance every year, but in 2020, “diverse workforce” was ranked as the seventh most important factor out of 19 options, with more than 79% of respondents saying it is “very important.”
In the Glassdoor survey, 76% of all employees and job seekers said diversity, equity and inclusion are important factors when evaluating companies and job offers. More than 70% of Black and Hispanic employees say their employer should be doing more to increase the diversity of its workforce.
Looking at the data, companies need to prioritize the growth, health and engagement of diverse employees to satisfy modern expectations around DEI. Growth does not necessarily mean promotion, however. A pathway toward leadership will not be everyone’s prerogative, so sitting with them to identify their ambitions and how the organization can help support their vision for their future is vital. Equal access to learning and training materials and identifying the skills and strengths of each employee is a good place to start.
Understand and Communicate the Importance of Intentions
Taking action toward ensuring a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce isn’t easy. There will likely be some uncomfortable conversations and criticisms to face from one employee segment or another along the way. At times like these, it’s essential to keep actions aligned with intentions and clearly communicate those intentions with employees.
Intentionality is shown through the trajectory of your organization’s DEI journey, and it’s vital to communicate failures in addition to successes. Acknowledging failure and reaffirming intentions reassures employees that the organization hasn’t lost sight of diversity goals and remains committed to building a workforce that reflects the society we live in.
When engaging with ERGs and diversity staff, intentions bear reiterating. Employees may grow frustrated by a lack of progress or even slow progress, but it’s important to keep perspective. Understanding how the organization can do better and helping employees (including the separate ERGs) see where they fit into the equation will benefit a company’s efforts to course-correct any stagnating DEI initiatives.
Talk About Employee Needs
Finally, when engaging with diverse employees, one of the most crucial things is simply listening. If you’re actively listening, their needs and challenges will present themselves. Giving employees the space and time to express their input provides managers, directors, HR and executive teams a chance to analyze how the organization meets those needs and what else can be done to help employees thrive even in the most difficult of times.
The conversations you have may lead to the realization that the company has to review its benefits offerings. For frontline and entry-level workers, the costs and responsibilities tied to childcare can be a major hurdle in continuing with the company in their current capacity. Childcare assistance, career mapping to find other roles they could potentially fill or grow into and flexible work hours are all ways companies can help these employees remain committed to the organization.
When it comes to flexibility, it’s something that employees of all backgrounds now expect. The pandemic revealed some truths about what can and can’t be done remotely, as well as how easily asynchronous workflows can be adapted for a variety of roles and teams. If you’re not providing some level of continued flexibility, employees will feel like their time and personal lives are not valued or respected by the organization.
It may present a challenge for the middle manager, but the time has come to teach managers to do their jobs differently — not solely based on in-person face time and looking over shoulders. Doing so will support the removal of bias from performance assessment and bases performance on the effectiveness of the work that is being done. In the end, all of these approaches are what employees want. Ultimately, these cumulative efforts are also what’s best for the business, and they may help stem the tide of personnel headed for the exit door.