Recent years have seen organizations focus their diversity efforts on recruiting, as high-level executives have come to see how diversity benefits the bottom line, and—perhaps even more importantly—is the right thing to do. But recruitment alone isn’t the answer. Recruiting and hiring are the first steps to developing a diverse workforce, but they won’t do much good without also focusing on retention.
First, it’s important to understand diversity and inclusion take commitment, but it’s not that simple. Being truly inclusive requires training, Kanouse says. “It’s a competency.” Leaders and upper management, especially, need training, and a key area to cover is unconscious bias. “Everybody has it,” she says. “Everybody comes to the table with some kind of unconscious bias.” Training can help people recognize and confront those biases and develop objectivity.
Too often, Kanouse says, leaders have favorites, and they maybe don’t even realize how they gravitate toward the people who look and act like them and come from the same place. But a leader grounded in objectivity can learn to draw out employees who might be uncomfortable in an environment and too intimidated to contribute ideas.
To get around that problem, Kanouse says organizations should examine their day-to-day behavior. For example, she suggests structuring team meetings so that all voices are heard. Instead of a free-for-all, she says a meeting leader might want to go around the table making sure everyone gets a chance to speak up. That puts everyone on an equal playing field.
Ensuring all voices are heard may require some behind-the-scenes work, Kanouse says, because some employees may think their ideas won’t be respected. But with a little personal attention in the form of coaching and mentoring, they can grow their confidence.
One idea Kanouse has seen used effectively embraces employees’ appetites. One way to celebrate various cultures—without spending a ton of money—is to throw a potluck showcasing foods from various cultural backgrounds. Employees research a culture and bring a dish whether they’re part of that background or not.
Employees from the various cultures might share a little information ahead of time to point people in the right direction, and then employees gather for lunch. Such a program creates an incentive for people to come together and learn about their coworkers.
The more people understand about each other’s backgrounds, the more opportunities they have for bonding and finding commonality, Kanouse says.
Putting Metrics to Work
Setting goals and looking at numbers also can help. It’s important to look at the makeup of a workforce to see how it measures up against the general population, but those metrics don’t necessarily measure how people feel, Kanouse says. Inclusivity is really about thoughts and opinions and making sure everyone has a voice.
Numbers are a step in the right direction, Kanouse says. For example, organizations can look at the level and title of diverse employees to see if women and various minorities are reaching management or if perhaps there’s a problem with the organization’s method of promoting people.
Employee surveys are helpful in determining whether minorities feel their voices are being heard and if benchmarks are showing improvement, Kanouse says. Also, to ensure accountability, metrics need to be incorporated in performance goals, and people in appropriate positions should be held accountable.
Challenges in Tech
Kanouse has seen employers in her industry—technology—thinking more about retaining a diverse workforce in the last few years, but it’s been a focus in some other industries longer. And she says it’s high time to make retention a priority.
“If you’re not thinking about it and consciously putting plans in place and talking about diversity and inclusion at a leadership level, you have a problem,” Kanouse says, and the ramifications will show up soon.
Kanouse’s organization’s goal is to support its member organizations and help them grow. Members are mostly growth-stage tech companies that often see retention lacking. She urges employers to focus on retention while they’re still in the growth stage.
“It’s easier to get it right now than it is to turn a big ship later,” she says.