In response to the national dialogue on racism and social justice, the business community is actively taking a role. CEOs and professional societies are issuing letters of support and acknowledging the need to be reflective and do more to overcome institutional racism. As experts in organizational culture and talent retention, WLH is asking the critical questions and leveraging our experience to support moving the dialogue forward.
A recent study found that people of color represent less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 3.2% of executives and senior manager-level employees. On average, 58% of black professionals feel racism on their jobs, which explains in part why 38% of black millennials say they are considering leaving their jobs to start their own company.
Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace is of the utmost importance. Diversity allows for innovative brainstorming and problem solving, a truth that is empirically supported by the fact that ethnically diverse organizations are 35% more likely to outperform their peers.
However, having a diverse workplace is simply insufficient. Companies must strive to cultivate workspaces that are both inclusive and fair. This is necessary for tapping into the full potential of all employees, as well as retaining diverse talent. As one study found, 62% of employees in the tech industry who voluntarily left their jobs would have stayed if their company had taken steps to create a more positive and respectful work environment. As it stands, black employees are30% more likely to leave than white employees are.
This begs the question: what steps can companies take to ensure the inclusion and retention of their diverse talent?
We offer four solutions that leaders can take to transform their company cultures.
The first step to addressing any problem is to diagnose it. The psychological phenomenon of the “bias blind spot” often hinders the ability to recognize individual biases in judgment and decision making. On a macro-level, the aggregate of employees’ blind spots and implicated biases can conceal the very real exclusion that occurs in a workspace. To recognize these issues, there are organizational diagnostic methods that can be used to audit the current state, evaluate company practices and policies, and create a base-line data point. Effective diagnostic practices can help surface employee beliefs through the following methods:
- Conduct structured interviews
- Create company or office-wide anonymous surveys
- Facilitate focus groups to assess internal issues
- Develop a scorecard to establish metrics along levels of leadership
These methods will provide leaders with a fuller and more accurate understanding of their workforce’s attitudes and biases, as well as the impact on organizational culture.
Once the issues are diagnosed, it is time to get to work. A planned implementation approach with leader-led tools can help managers facilitate discussions with their employees to bring issues to the forefront. The purpose of these discussions is to establish rules of engagement where viewpoints and experiences are respected and to prevent productive dialogues from turning into debates. Agreed upon rules of engagement are designed to encourage participants to exercise empathy, curiosity, and validation of emotions. Though these discussions may breed discomfort, positive change and alignment can be achieved.
3. Establish expectations.
Leaders must transform their new insights and goals into concrete and transparent policies. They must effectively communicate exactly what they hope to achieve and how they will go about attaining such goals. One example of this step would be to set clear expectations for the inclusive behavior that they expect from their employees. This action’s success is empirically supported, as 33% of black women who are satisfied with their advancement and intend to stay at their companies work for companies with this policy in place, as opposed to 6% of black women who work at companies where this is NOT a policy. Other policies with proven effectiveness include:
- Clear communication of how promotions work
- In-person bias awareness training
- Accountability for harassment, regardless of an employee’s seniority
4. Expand contact
The lack of diverse leadership in companies can operate as a self-reinforcing cycle––a lack of representation can make it more difficult for minority employees to advance through the company, which in turn reduces the diversity of company leadership.
One study found that internal isolation is often a large contributor to the problem because a lack of networking and mentorship for diverse talent within the company could hinder chances at promotions to senior leadership positions. This is a barrier to inclusivity, as only 31% of black professionals feel they have access to senior leaders compared to 44% of white professionals.
So, how do leaders go about solving this problem? One method is to establish mentorship programs that pair employees with other employees who occupy higher-level positions to ensure consistent guidance and feedback. However, one studyfound that an even more effective method would be to have senior executives connect with minority employees more naturally, such as through work groups or common interests.
These four solutions represent an opportunity for organizations to undergo both a reflective and proactive effort to drive cultural change and make strides to retain diverse talent. WLH welcomes the opportunity to further discuss how our consulting services and blended learning solutions can support diversity and inclusion initiatives within your organization.