How to Maintain a Diverse Workforce

              The topic of diversity has seen continuous growth in the past decade, driven in part by societal changes, globalization and economics. Organizations have also seen their importance grow daily, steered by similar internal and external market forces. Many organizations have found themselves eager to embrace diversity to some degree, yet, many have found it difficult to implement and maintain a diverse workforce. Whether employees have demonstrated a lack of willingness to embrace change or availability of a diverse workforce is perceived to be dim, organizations have faced a multi-faceted challenge as they strive to gain the perceived benefits of ethnically diverse teams such as higher innovation, greater opportunities with a broader clientele and higher profitability.

              Many organizations see diversity as an opportunity to bring different ideas, challenges, and solutions to their unique challenges because of the different experiences individuals accumulated throughout their life. Diverse teams are perceived to promote acceptance and, in turn, reduce discrimination. McKinsey & Company – a global consulting firm – has gone a little further in their qualitative and quantitative analysis of the matter in their Why diversity matters (2015), Delivering through diversity (2018) and Diversity wins: How inclusion matters (2020) reports. One thing became clearer to them, highly diverse organizations have been outperforming their peers on average.

              Despite the alleged benefits of having a diverse workforce, several organizations still struggle with attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. Several factors play an important role in this misalignment between goals (or objectives and policies) and actual implementation. These issues need to be addressed to ensure a healthy workplace that considers the needs of the workforce it wants to attract and maintain.

              This article will specifically focus on the retention of diverse employees. However, if you would like to read more about how to attract diverse employees, please see the article How to Attract a Diverse Workforce.

How to Maintain a Diverse Workforce

              To maintain a diverse workforce, first there are a few internal items that organizations need to address. Such practices not only will increase the chances that persons from a diverse background want to apply to an organization, but also will increase the chances that they will continue working on the organization at a later stage.

              Once enhancements have been done on How to Attract a Diverse Workforce, the organization needs to look inwards to understand the opportunities and challenges that it is likely to face as it expands diversity within its personnel. This activity may start with a couple of internal research on diversity to fuel strategic thinking and actionable goals as it strives to promote workforce engagement. Additionally, staff should be surveyed as they can provide valuable feedback on the company’s practices, culture and, on how both topics affect and incentive (or disincentive) diversity within the organization. As such, having a realistic picture of the state of diversity should be considered a first step in the journey to attract and maintain a diverse workforce.

1) Inclusive Culture: internal company culture plays an expansive role in workforce retention, especially among diverse hires. A culture in which discriminatory practices and ostracization prevail does not entice a friendly environment for individuals from minority groups. As such, it is important to promote diversity not only on paper, but also in practice by instilling policies that punish and disincentivize discriminatory behaviour and promote inclusiveness, so individuals feel safe and cared for. A culture that promotes a friendly tone of inclusivity which celebrates diversity is more conducive of a global workforce composed of different ethnic backgrounds, creeds, genders, and beliefs.

              The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provided valuable pointers on how to create and promote a culture of inclusiveness. It all starts with training top-level executives on the importance of diversity and forming a dedicated council composed of diverse managers who will focus on implementing a strategy that promotes diversity and inclusion in the organization. Their approach also entails honouring employee’s diverse backgrounds and surveying employees on inclusiveness and diversity. As suggested by SHRM, it goes without saying that proper goal measuring and data gathering efforts should be made. Note that a dedicated council may not be viable to smaller organizations due to limited resource availability, in such cases, it remains possible to gather data on the workforce and to have at least two individuals sharing their thoughts on the available data.

2) Report on and celebrate workforce diversity: several workplaces report on diversity not only externally (McKinsey, Coca-Cola, and Accenture) but also internally. This helps employees feel proud of being part of an organization that cares for diversity and works towards a more equitable environment. Share goals and achievements and survey employees on said items to gauge if they are accurate reflections of the picture, and to understand if they agree with the direction the company is taking – to ensure collective participation and unity towards a common goal. Be mindful that there is a fine balance in reporting and celebrating workforce diversity to not oversaturate the organization’s vision. Keep it realistic to not create falsehoods and cynicism that can exacerbate division.

3) Educate your company on diversity topics formally and informally: certain companies provide annual training to their employees on diversity. Despite controversial data on the effectiveness of diversity training, some advocates defend that the practice can be effective when awareness and skill development is at the core of the training. Topics and approaches may include:

  • Fact case scenarios to better understand how to deal with a certain situation that may occur when interacting with individuals from different backgrounds and to discuss possible personal biases.
  • Perspective-taking exercises, as suggested by HBR, whereas individuals are given scenarios and required to respond by taking the perspective of minority groups such as females, LGBT, and racial minorities.
  • Research on the benefits of diversity, inclusion, and how the company plans to tie all of that to its culture and future objectives.
  • Refresher on policies that surround diversity and inclusion such as Anti-harassment policies, Anti-reprisal policies, Code of Ethics, etc.

4) Promote transparency in decision-making: improve transparency in Human Resources decision making when it comes to hiring, promoting, firing, and training individuals. Honest and open communication on decision making can open the doors to create a sense of trust and respect between management and employees. Transparency also has the added bonus of increasing engagement when done appropriately and it trickles to topics beyond decision making. For instance, educating employees on open channels to report on misconduct or provide feedback, discussing challenges openly and appropriately, etc.

5) Improve the onboarding process: pay special attention to the onboarding process as they can facilitate employee integration, helping them to feel engaged, included, and welcomed in the company. This process is essential to the success of every new employee, but it can be especially powerful to employees of diverse backgrounds which may often feel left out. A proper welcome and introduction to the resources, infrastructure, and assets available to them will go a long way. Ensure that during this process, employees are also made aware of special groups and communities (i.e. Toastmasters or Women in Leadership) available within the organization that they can join and be a member of. Whenever possible, provide the employee with a mentor or point of contact that can be reached out to for support. It can be a manager, coordinator, cubicle buddies or a more experienced employee with a similar job description. Be sure to let the point of contact know of the onboarding date, the name of the person and expected support that they will need to provide to the new hire.

6) Leverage exit interviews: understand the power of exit interviews as they are uniquely positioned to gather information of soon to be former employees on what they consider to be company successes, challenges, and failures. Not only that, individuals feel more inclined to provide honest feedback since the perceived risk of losses are lower as they exit the company, and as such, the feedback can be more direct and targeted. It is important to understand that, depending on the circumstances in which the employment has ended, some of the opinions may be biased and may require that one does a bit more research before jumping into conclusions.

7) Make actionable goals: Data gathered while surveying your employees and researching your organization’s demographic is valuable to craft SMART goals and objectives associated with enhancing diversity measures in your organization. Actionable goals ensure that teams can better grasp what’s needed to further advance diversity efforts in the organization. For instance, a broad goal such as “Increase the number of diverse hires” may not be as helpful as “Ensure that 100% of the job adds discuss diversity and secure at least 1 partnerships with universities and 1 partnership with an association whose representation is composed of individuals from a diverse background to advertise job posts”. The quantifiability and granularity of the latter statement allows employees to have clear insight into what needs to be done to accomplish a broader strategic goal associated with diversity.

8) Ensure that the organization’s culture, policies, and practices support diversity: For instance, organizations may have an anti-harassment policy, but is it supported by safe channels of reporting? Does the company issue independent investigations on the subject? Do employees feel safe to report? What are the repercussions for discriminatory practices? Does your company celebrate diversity and its workforce? Is your company accommodating of the needs of diverse employees (religious observations, work-life balance, etc.)?

Final Thoughts

              Statements about diversity and inclusion in the workplace need to be accompanied by actual efforts that support the cause and impact the organization at large. Research has shown that there are clear social and economic benefit associated with it. Maintaining a diverse workforce requires continuous involvement, engagement, surveying, and investment in the organization’s culture and the training of leaders and individuals. Further, to achieve success in diversity-related goals, data-driven insights and critical strategic thought need to be employed to assess the current state of the company and how such subject can be tackled. Current diverse employees can be powerful allies and a source of information to assist the organization move to a more inclusive and equitable direction fueled by innovative solutions and untapped markets and resources.

The opinions in this article is of the authors and do not reflect clients or other’s views.


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