How DEI Efforts Lead to Better Employee Retention


Adjusting hiring procedures to be mindful of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a great first step towards a more inclusive workforce, but new hires may be less likely to stay if their work environment doesn’t fully support them. DEI retention issues can appear on day one of a person’s employment, in ways like onboarding policies that don’t consider what it’s like to be the only person of a race/ethnicity in the office or fellow employees that don’t understand microaggressions. Employees not seeing tangible change after social justice statements this summer is another way diverse candidates may not feel truly included. Experts say the best way to retain these employees and avoid placing pressure on them is to ensure your culture is inclusive before they even start.

A diverse and inclusive workforce benefits productivity and ROI, but it also contributes to a happy and healthy work environment. However, The COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting a company’s ability to focus on DEI engagement. One study found that DEI-related job postings declined to over 38% lower than they were pre-pandemic. With fewer such positions available or filled, the less likely a company is to have someone on staff to help with DEI efforts.

Experts remind companies that potential hires of color will research where a company stands on the principles of DEI, so if your organization is still in the beginning stages of change, be honest with these employees and candidates. Including them in the conversation from the beginning can help them feel supported and willing to stay long-term. If a candidate agreed to work for your organization, there was likely something else they were excited about in the position, so fostering inclusivity will only help them stay engaged.

A strong retention plan begins with a supportive onboarding. Before the new employee has their first day or during their first week, schedule meetings with managers and other employees they will frequently work with. These could be socially-distanced lunches, coffee meetings or Zoom calls depending on your organization. Ensure the new hire knows exactly who supports and oversees their projects and pair them with colleagues at their same level who can clear up important logistical concerns. This step is of paramount importance during COVID, as many new employees aren’t able to casually connect with colleagues in an office setting. Encourage employees to dig deeper than just what’s on their resume and help the new hire get to know them on a personal level. Another way to show this support is to have senior leadership members reach out. Having them show their interest in a new hire, as well as DEI efforts, can help foster that inclusivity as it’s shown from the top down.

Once the job begins fully, ensure that access to management and regular check-ins continue. Experts suggest starting a weekly schedule of meetings where managers can reinforce a company’s openness to change and course-correct any concerns that may arise. Give feedback as needed but remind them that their work is meaningful and valuable to the team.

Other employees at your organization may have little to no experience working with people who look nothing like them or have different life experiences. They may be unaware that the language they use can be construed as offensive, or that certain behaviors can be interpreted as microaggressions. Encourage managers to tackle these issues right away to reduce the likelihood that this employee might unintentionally hurt someone else. Approach the conversation from a place of empathy, not malice.

If the issue extends beyond the scope of what your managers can handle, don’t be afraid to ask for help in addressing conflicts related to DEI. These outside professionals can help with how to conduct difficult conversations about race in the workplace and establish a common language around diversity—topics such as what true equity looks like and what constitutes a microaggression. Take care of any short-term issues right away. If the problem is something that has existed long term or it’s rooted in a negative experience from a new hire’s previous job, invite the employee in on constructing a solution, even if the issue has nothing to do with DEI. Ensuring all employees feel included and supported is key to fostering an inclusive culture, and retaining talent for the long-term.

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