When the diversity bucket leaks
For years now, leading organizations across the nation have made strides to diversify their workforce to include more women and people of color. According to Workforce Management, roughly $8 billion dollars are poured into recruiting, hiring, and other HR functions to attract diverse talent.
And why not? Increasing diversity is one of the first steps to building a more inclusive workplace environment. Or is it? Does representation automatically equal inclusion and belonging?
As a consultant, I am often asked what comes first: building a robust recruitment strategy to attract diverse talent or creating a more inclusive workplace climate. Some say you cannot attract diverse talent when most of your workforce comprises white, male, cisgender, straight employees. So, start there. Others say that both matter and should happen simultaneously.
But this can get tricky when a company has limited resources and people to propel their diversity initiatives forward. I say, start with inclusion and belonging—here’s why.
The leaky bucket
Let’s take a look at the leaky bucket business analogy—a simple way to describe business churn. Imagine a bucket (your organization) under a faucet (talent acquisition) catching pouring water (your newly employed talent). Now imagine that water leaking out of some large holes at the bottom of the bucket, driving a high turnover rate. Due to this leak, your diversity goals are never achieved, and in some instances, the rate of leak may become higher than the rate of the fill, so your diversity efforts return a net negative result. Why could this happen?
Diversity has become the trendiest corporate buzzword. However, in furthering their diversity goals, organizations tend to forget that these “diverse” talents are people who need a psychologically safe environment to thrive in and be their best.
Attracting diverse talent is not enough―you must also retain it. It will not matter how many people of color, women, LGBTQ+ employees you attract if the holes within your organization negatively affect retaining your employees. These holes may represent things like an unwelcoming workplace culture, daily microaggressions, biased-based decision making, and continually being overlooked for opportunities within the organization.
Ignoring issues of workplace racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia comes at a high cost. According to Kapor Center’s 2017 Tech Leavers Study, the turnover of underrepresented groups costs the tech industry $16 billion each year due to toxic workplace culture. In this same study, one in 10 women in tech reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention.
LGBTQ+ employees were most likely to be bullied (20 percent) and experience public humiliation or embarrassment (24 percent). Women of color reported the highest rates of being passed over for promotion (30 percent), being stereotyped (24 percent), and having their identity mistaken for another person of the same race/gender (17 percent) of any group.
Continuing to attract diverse talent and consistently failing to retain them is, in my opinion, the worst form of planned inclusion―they are attracted only to check-the-box.
The empty bucket
What about the organizations that don’t have diverse representation to begin with? They’d need to start recruiting, right? Not quite. If your organization’s demographic entirely comprises white, straight, cisgender men, you should address why that is before turning that faucet on.
To set the record straight, it’s not a pipeline problem (re: Wells Fargo CEO). The chances are that there is a pattern here where recruiters and hiring managers are only hiring and referring folks that look, think, and act like them. A study by PayScale found that women are 12 percent less likely, men of color are 26 percent less likely, and women of color are 35 percent less likely to receive a referral.
To help mitigate this, some look to diversity pledge programs like the Rooney Rule, Parity Pledge, or the Mansfield Rule to ensure that seeking diverse candidates is part of the hiring process. These are a great start, but they still do not get at the root of the issue. Uprooting bias-based decision making, checking referral programs, and evaluating whether there is a specific “type” of employee the organization values is the first step.
Along the same lines, the organization needs to be honest about why they care about diversifying their workforce in the first place. If it’s for the sake of not being scrutinized by the public or to fulfill a quota, then you are performing diversity and your intentions are misplaced.
The clogged faucet
An empty bucket is also a symptom of a clogged faucet. Let us say that your recruitment pipeline is full of diverse, qualified candidates, but your hiring manager chooses not to hire those diverse candidates — clogging the faucet.
If your hiring managers are making decisions only to hire that specific “type” because that’s how it has historically been done, then diversity won’t matter. Unclogging the faucet may mean that your hiring managers need to attend training on bias, cultural competency, and inclusive interviewing. Unclogging the faucet may also mean replacing a diverse slate hiring policy or enforcing standardized processes to ensure that everyone is evaluated equitably.
The moldy bucket
If you think a leaky bucket sounds terrible, a moldy bucket is even worse. This is when the policies and procedures within your organization inherently exclude underrepresented employees, or when there are no formal structures to manage and act on improving the professional experience of the diverse talent within your organization.
Mold thrives on unequal pay, promotional disparities, career advancement barriers, and discriminations that aren’t adequately addressed. A moldy bucket leads to a leaky wallet. In 2019, US companies paid $68.2 million in harassment and discrimination claims—racism being the second-highest form of discrimination in the workplace according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study.
The majority of these organizations failed to establish appropriate policies to address both overt and subtle forms of discrimination. Georgia State University conducted a study and found that women and people of color experience higher levels of workplace bullying. Mold eventually becomes rot when some organizations fail to remove bad actors, keep bullies, or reward badly-behaved staff regardless of existing anti-discrimination policies.
To avoid creating such an organization, it’s best to align policies, procedures, and the organization’s culture. This means outlining core values, implementing zero-tolerance policies, and taking decisive action in reported discrimination cases.
The bucket without a handle
For several years, I’ve spoken to leaders who have a hard time noticing their organization’s leaks and molds because they want to believe that their organization and the people in it are good. There’s also a disconnect between what leaders perceive to be true about their organization and what marginalized employees actually experience in the workplace. They don’t seem to have a real handle on what’s going on within the walls of the workplace.
This level of misalignment continues to cause harm to their current employees and sets future ones up for failure. It takes bravery to unearth the depths of your bucket, and it’s not always a pretty sight. To help with the shock, it’s best to regularly check the temperature of your organization—fully examine the day-to-day realities of the workplace culture and whether it’s truly as inclusive as you think.
Becoming an organization with a diverse workforce goes beyond the organization’s external positioning and communication. It involves making deep, sometimes painful changes to ensure that the talents you do attract have the best experience, are retained, and recommend the organization to other diverse talents.
Diversity wants to know that diversity is treasured, and when organizations build a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive environment, they demonstrate the genuineness of their diversity goals.
And when caring becomes the business norm, it becomes less about getting on the “best of diversity” list, and more about ensuring that each person feels respected and valued—which only ensures that the bucket is kept full.