Diversity consultant and founder of QUEST Diversity Initiatives LLC Natalie Holder-Winfield, wants to make something clear: “When I say â€˜diverse,’ I don’t mean it as a stand-in or as another word for â€˜minority.’ When I refer to a diverse workforce, I really do mean people of all different ideas, thoughts, cultures, backgrounds, and sexual orientation — that to me makes up a diverse workforce.”
The High Costs of Ignoring Diversity
Unfortunately, many companies still see diversity solely in terms of the number of recognized minorities within their organizations. And as companies are looking to cut costs and trim the fat, many see diversity initiatives as an expendable expense. According to Holder-Winfield, who is also an employment law attorney, companies tend to have a skewed idea of the costs of diversity. Many of these organizations have stand-alone diversity programs that were created because they were the “right thing to do.” Now, as the economic crunch hits, those programs are on the chopping block.
But that could be a costly mistake, Holder-Winfield contends, “There are financial and intangible benefits to having a diversity initiative. When people feel valued, they want to give a whole lot more to your organization. People feel an investment in an organization when you invest in them. They feel there is a return on investment of their time, sacrifice, and hard work. But when people feel excluded from the organization, that’s when you find they are no longer productive.” She adds that when people feel as if they don’t have a seat at the table, “their second jobs become looking for their next job” — often, on the company dime, computer, and Internet connection.
Holder-Winfield reminds those who think that employee turnover due to exclusion isn’t a big deal that “research shows that it will often cost an employer 150 percent of a departing employee’s salary to replace that person.”
Integrating Diversity Saves Money, Increases Results
Not having a proper diversity initiative in place at your company can result in hard financial hits. In fact, Holder-Winfield suggests that the best way to make a diversity initiative work is to integrate it into your other programs. Instead of thinking of your diversity initiative as a stand-alone program, think about working diversity into other aspects of your business, for instance, recruitment, marketing, and product development.
To that end, she offers the following tips for promoting diversity in your organization on a budget:
- Give Them a Hand. If you are recruiting on a college campus, don’t just hand out brochures about your company and a pen with your logo. Instead, host a seminar where a couple of your best writers or hiring managers help students create and polish their resumes. Again, you may not be hiring this year, but in a few years (when these now-green newbies have gained invaluable work and world experience), they’ll still remember this help you offered and it will leave a favorable impression. “Even if they don’t work their first â€” or second, or third â€” job with your company, if you helped with their resume, they will remember, and maybe one day, they’ll come work for you.”
- Help with Career Development. Similarly, the next time your company is represented at a career fair, don’t let your representatives just set up a booth and passively sit there. Have them engage attendees with a career development seminar. For instance, Holder-Winfield has worked with companies to create “Power Hour” seminars during career fairs that tackle pressing issues in the workplace. She says that will leave a positive impression in these workers’ minds about your company, whether they come to work for you now or not, creating a powerful branding tool for possible future employees and customers.
- Share Insight. There is a lot of internal knowledge that is oftentimes not shared within an organization. Create group-mentoring environments by hosting panel discussions that discuss career development in the context of your business. “It’s very cost effective because you use members of they company to serve as subject matter experts that pass along their strategies and know-how to the next generation of leadership,” Holder-Winfield explains. Giving your newer, and even your more seasoned, employees this insight makes them feel more invested in your company while also showing them that they are trusted and valued.
- Show Employees Where They Fit In. Oftentimes, employees will leave a company because they don’t feel like they fit in. Holder-Winfield gives an example of a Filipino-American gentleman she interviewed when working on her book, Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce: New Rules for the Next Generation: “He looked around at the people who were in senior levels of leadership and said â€˜You know what? There’s no one who looks like me. So chances are, I’m probably not going to make it to the senior levels of leadership. Instead of sacrificing all my weekends and time, let me go off and do something that’s really going to make me feel good at the end of the day.’” His managers’ failure to show an interest in his career, compounded with a dearth of racial diversity in leadership, led to his premature departure.Â And with that, another company lost a valuable employee. Take the time to sit down with your employees and let them know exactly what is possible in terms of advancement and what they need to do to get there. With that sort of clear direction, you are more likely to retain talented employees from all backgrounds.
Celeste Blackburn is managing editor of HR Insight. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.