Meaningful Inclusion: Creating a Lasting DEI Program for Employee Retention

Is your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program falling short when it comes to retaining workers? Here are some ideas for a long-lasting program.

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Meaningful Inclusion: Creating a Lasting DEI Program for Employee Retention

Here's what you need to know:

  • Ways that organizations can take their DEI programs to the next level include hosting uncovering bias workshops and reducing “tokens”
  • Companies can standardize all processes and improve mentorship among employees
  • Customizing benefits packages and ensuring that work environments are accessible are other actionable steps businesses can take

So, you’ve done the hard work of setting up a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program and have begun hiring employees who better represent your area’s demographics.

What’s next?

For HR managers, recruitment is only the beginning — and even more so when you begin hiring more inclusively. A DEI program is essential for today’s businesses, but if its focus is solely on new hires and general training sessions, then it’s possible to miss a huge opportunity for improving retention.

When we look at a truly inclusive, end-to-end workplace, we need to consider more than compliance, such as:

  • Employee trust in the organization
  • Chances for promotion and professional development
  • The work environment as a safe space
  • Benefits packages that meet ALL employee needs
  • Workplace accessibility and accommodations

All of these aspects can make or break your long-term diversity and inclusion initiatives.

But before we get to our 6 actionable tips, let’s look at the purpose of DEI programs in general.

Revisiting the purpose of DEI programs

When we look at the purpose of DEI programs, we have to look at both the progress American firms have made in the workplace as well as the persisting gap. Barely 30% of small businesses feel that their workplace reflects their area’s overall demographics.

Essentially, a DEI program is meant to reduce systemic barriers and encourage a shift in mindset within an organization to be more open to a more inclusive workforce.

And while people of color have made strides in employment, few have made it to executive positions. For example, only 2% of African Americans have made it to senior management according to a recent Mercer study.

This prompts us to revisit the role of DEI programs in general. Essentially, a DEI program is meant to reduce systemic barriers and encourage a shift in mindset within an organization to be more open to a more inclusive workforce.

In fact, when we look at the differences between the terms listed in DEI, we cover the base components:

  • Diversity: This relates to improved representation of people from all walks of life, including different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, abilities, races, genders, nationalities, ages, and other personal identifiers.
  • Equity: Deals with fair treatment for everyone in your organization.
  • Inclusion: This part of DEI focuses on ensuring that the workplace is a safe space for all groups. This can translate into using different modes of workplace communication, ensuring anti-discrimination policies are enforced, and employing flexible work models.

While many companies have made strides in these areas, we still see consistent underemployment or underperformance reported for people of color accessing the spectrum.

So, what’s missing?

Why do DEI hires have high turnover rates?

One significant issue that organizations run into when it comes to DEI is retention. Recruiting an employee is one thing, but keeping them is difficult. For diverse hires, this can be more challenging.

By way of example, twice as many women are likely to leave as men. For African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color, this is as high as 3.5x. Furthermore, 47% of African Americans and 49% of Hispanic employees have quit a job due to discrimination or unfair treatment at work.

Even with a stellar recruitment program, retention and a lack of career growth among diverse candidates reduce the impact of DEI programs in the workplace. The lack of long-term support continues to create a disconnect between intention and execution when it comes to implementing meaningful change.

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6 ways toward meaningful inclusion of employees

The good news is that there are ways to combat discrimination in the workplace, even unintentional instances of unfair treatment. Here are some ways you can take your DEI program to the next level:

1. Host uncovering bias workshops

Ultimately, issues with retaining diverse employees will continue so long as biases remain. It’s likely impossible to eliminate biases in every employee, but it’s possible to keep employees aware of their own biases. And the thing is, biases exist across identities — no one is immune. So these workshops can be easily standardized.

In the MIT publication An Inclusive Academy, a book about diversity and inclusion in academia, researchers concluded that 2 issues persist when it comes to biases:

  • Individuals believe that their instances on merit mean they will always intentionally make the best decisions regarding their juniors or colleagues based on merit.
  • Many who state that they support diversity subconsciously stop their support post-recognizing it publicly. In other words — psychologically, sometimes saying something makes us feel like we’ve done something.

At the same time, it’s normal for people to hang out around people like themselves. This is called homophily. The issue here is that when we unconsciously allow homophily to work and surround ourselves with people who are similar to us, we don’t see unintentional and often systemic issues that remove diversity from the workplace.

Annual inclusion seminars and workshops might help employees and managers better identify their unconscious tendencies to gravitate towards like-minds and similar groups.

2. Reduce “tokens”

When DEI programs first came to the fore, there was much excitement about different “diversity” centric events — African American History Month, Hispanic History Month, workplace parties based on “diverse” holidays, and so on.

But this takes a surface approach. At the same time, people of color risk taking the brunt of the planning and preparation for these events, thus taking their time away from job-related tasks.

Tokenism is the concept that we add 1 or 2 cosmetic changes to the organization for short-term appearances. But it doesn’t contribute to long-term change, and it certainly doesn’t help with retention.

While being inclusive of holidays (including giving employees PTO days) and celebrating diversity in the workplace is encouraged, it should be a supplement, not the main feature of your DEI program.

3. Standardize all processes

One of the best ways to avoid discrimination and ensure inclusivity in the workplace is to ensure that all processes are applied consistently across all groups. This goes for career building, performance reviews, policy enforcement, and other procedures. This means that resources, feedback, and other positive components should be properly adjusted and accessible to all parties.

For example, we know that women believe they receive more negative feedback compared to their male counterparts. The type of feedback for women may also be more limiting, often confining them to immediate duties instead of their long-term goals.

A standardized, thoughtful, and comprehensive template for performance reviews and feedback could help to reduce this disparity and ensure all employees get the assistance they need to succeed.

4. Improve mentorship among employees

Mentorship can be an essential part of retention for diverse hires. While many will benefit from guidance from a member of the same group, this isn’t always the case. The last thing you want to do is define an individual by 1 part of their identity.

Consider personality traits and career trajectory when assigning mentors, as well as identity. And ideally, you can help new diverse hires network with a range of senior management and all-star professionals within the organization. This ensures they have additional support across the business, as well as feel embedded in the community.

5. Customize benefits packages

Even if you look at a homogenous business with many employees from the same social groups, benefits must differ widely. When you start adding employees from different backgrounds, you may need to adjust your benefits packages to include a wider range of items, including:

  • Improved health coverage
  • Ensuring all benefits are accessible
  • Flexible work arrangements and PTO
  • More professional development resources

6. Ensure that work environments are accessible

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes reasonable accommodations a compliance issue, it’s important that employees feel comfortable asking for said accommodations. These adjustments should be taken seriously, and in the best-case scenario, these considerations should be baked into the workplace environment.

This can include ensuring that employee portals or websites are fully and easily accessible, providing special mobility aids, or building disability accommodations into the work environment. It can also be providing ample PTO days or flexible work schedules.

Take your DEI efforts to the next level

Crafting and implementing a DEI program can be challenging. And it’s largely a thankless process in the beginning. But making room for professionals from all walks of life can only benefit your organization in the long run.

To help you grow your program faster, check out our free resources on building a DEI program:

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