Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting

The Most Common Mistakes Companies Make When Trying to Recruit and Retain Diverse Talent

It’s undebatable that companies benefit from employees with a diverse range of backgrounds, skills, and perspectives, but here are some stats anyway: Companies with diverse management teams report revenue that’s 19% higher than companies without, and diverse companies are nearly twice as likely to be leaders in their market segments, according to a recent report by Momentive The real question is: How can HR leaders recruit—and, more importantly, retain—hires with such varied experiences and needs?

In January, The Muse surveyed nearly 7,000 users to find out how likely they are to look for a new job this year, what makes them want to look for different employment, and what their priorities are as jobseekers. The respondents came from varied backgrounds: 54% of survey-takers identified as a race other than Caucasian (white), and nearly a quarter said they were a first-generation college graduate in their family. While 57% reported being employed full time, a staggering 75% said they are planning to look for a new job sometime over the next 12 months—up from 65% in 2022.

Some of this has to do with shift shock, a term we coined in 2022 that refers to the feeling when you start a new job and realize, with either surprise or regret, that the position or company is very different from what you were led to believe. Business Insider later called shift shock one of the biggest buzzwords of 2023, given that 72% of workers say they’ve experienced shift shock at some point in their career. Falling far short of employee expectations leads to disengagement, churn, or worse, but what’s a well-intentioned HR leader to do?

Here, we’ll unpack the biggest things employers are missing when it comes to engaging with diverse talent, plus actionable ways to do better.

1. Assuming Everyone Works the Same Way You Do

In our 2023 survey, 76% of women cited work/life balance as the most important factor in evaluating whether a company is a good fit compared with 65% of men. As Yolanda M. Owens, a Muse career coach, explains it, “Often they’re the ones who have to schlep the kids to activities, cook dinner, or go grocery shopping—so it’s about having that time to breathe and be themselves for a little while.”

Some CEOs I’ve spoken with seem to interpret a desire for work/life balance as an unwillingness to work hard. While that could be true for some, many candidates believe this focus on balance is more about the autonomy or flexibility to be part of the discussion about when they work and how they do it. This is crucial for HR leaders to understand because work/life balance was the No. 1 most important factor, even above compensation, when evaluating company fit across all respondents. “In recruiting young professionals, it’s not about making the most money,” adds Owens. “It’s about being able to spend time with family and friends and pursue outside activities and side hustles. They simply want to be able to have a life outside of work.”

Employers today need to highlight how their company culture enables work/life balance in their job descriptions, as 67% of survey respondents said it’s the most useful material—even more than testimonials from verified employees (58%)—when determining if a job and company are right for them.

2. Moving on from New Hires After They’re Onboarded

Employers place a lot of focus on the hiring and onboarding processes and rightly so, but that’s often where collaboration with new hires drops off. In The Muse’s 2023 user survey, black and Asian respondents ranked learning and growth opportunities as the second most important factor—behind work/life balance yet ahead of compensation—when looking for a new job.

Again, the job description is up for disruption: Employers should clarify how potential hires will learn, develop, and advance in the role. Owens points out that many candidates wrongly think they have to meet 100% of the qualifications in the job description before applying. Encourage them to think otherwise by following Owens’s 60-20-20 rule, which leaves more flexibility for growth: 60% of the job description should be able to be done with confidence; 20% should involve a learning curve; and in the final 20%, applicants should expect to learn new skills to prepare for advancement in the company. This way, they won’t be bored in 6 months and look for something new, as 75% of respondents plan to do this year.

3. Leaving Younger Staffers to Fend for Themselves Amid the Potential for Layoffs

Gen Z respondents were 18% more likely to leave their jobs over the possibility of future layoffs than survey-takers from other generations. Layoffs are an extremely difficult reality of business, especially during the economic volatility we’re currently facing, and young employees often lack enough experience to feel like they can get ahead of the risk of being laid off. “They often think, ‘I’m low on the totem pole, so I must be on the chopping block,’” says Owens.

Owens and I agree employers can counteract this feeling of uncertainty by giving young employees mentors who can help advocate for them. “It’s hard to advocate for yourself when you don’t know what you don’t know,” Owens notes. But a more experienced sponsor does and can help remind higher-ups in charge of budget decisions how valuable younger employees are to the business.

Along these lines, Owens and I also agree that advocacy is the biggest way to retain diverse talent. When it comes to a workforce that already feels like they have to work twice as hard for half the recognition, Owens says it’s all about “not making them always advocate for themselves.”

Kathryn Minshew is CEO and Cofounder of value-based job search and career advice site The Muse, as well as coauthor of The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook to Navigating Your Career. Minshew has spoken at MIT and Harvard, appeared on The TODAY Show and CNN, and contributes on career and entrepreneurship to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. She has also been named to SmartCEO’s Future50 Visionary CEOs, Forbes’s 30 Under 30, and Inc.’s 35 Under 35. Additionally, The Muse has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. Before founding The Muse, Minshew worked on vaccines in Rwanda and Malawi with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and was previously at McKinsey.  

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