With the emergence of the diverse and inclusive employer brand, many firms and HR execs have successfully shifted diversity and inclusion to the forefront of their hiring practice and workplace culture. Study after study has shown that diverse team members foster a culture of innovation because of their unique viewpoints and are an asset to any company. In response, employers have developed new processes and even adopted new technologies to make the shift towards a more inclusive and equitable way of doing business.
Now that you have all this diverse talent, though, how do you retain them? The answer is not always straightforward and can take some trial and error to accomplish.
During my time in the corporate environment as an openly gay man, I’ve heard about nearly every diversity and inclusion policy and pushed for some of my own. But most of the policies that made me want to stay, where I personally felt the success of these initiatives, was where the employer showed me that I was valued for my diversity and not just a token.
You might be tempted to treat your diverse hires differently because they bring a lot of value to your business. But at the end of the day, your diverse staff are humans and, just like anyone else, they want to know they’re doing a good job even if their approach to corporate citizenship is different.
How do you avoid that trap and show your employees you care about them, and not just the colorful hiring statistics or “diversity” they bring to your company? Here are three “micro-changes” you can make to show your employees that the experiences and perspective they bring are as valuable to the business as you say they are.
3 Principles for Valuing and Retaining Diverse Talent
Celebrate the differences in every employee—not just the “diverse” ones
We all walk different paths, and we want to celebrate that! That being said, you want to avoid tokenizing your diverse hires. Any staff member would be thrilled to be recognized for their professionalism, their smarts, or even for a great haircut. But that doesn’t mean bringing up the fact that you have a “diverse” staff member at every corporate outing.
Recognize that all of your staff offer some form of a unique viewpoint, not just your diverse hires. Talk openly about the value every team member brings, not just highlighting and potentially embarrassing your diverse talent. A diverse hire doesn’t want to be called a diverse hire or find out that their manager gossips that they hired a diverse employee.
If you want to understand more about how to serve your diverse hires, consider having a private chat. Ask what it’s like to grow up gay, Asian, neuro-atypical, etc. in whatever area they came from. Ground them, welcome them, and create a safe space. This gesture plants a seed of trust that can lead this person to become one of your most loyal employees.
Intentionally build an inclusive employee experience
A diverse and inclusive approach to business has probably changed a lot about how you work already, from the recruitment process and onboarding to addressing unique needs in some of your diverse hires’ workspace once they’ve started. Ask yourself, ‘Have I done all I can to create working conditions where every team member can thrive?’
If some places fall short, that’s okay. But if you’re not seeing the results you want, which aspects of the employee experience or lifecycle need the most attention. From there, think of processes that can create the conditions which attract diverse hires and promote inclusive behavior throughout the entire company. How will you measure the impact? Can you track the results of any training or new processes you put in place?
You have to consider every opportunity, from recruiting to performance reviews, as an opportunity for creating an experience that fosters diversity and inclusion. While the shift in day-to-day work and team building may feel staggering, for your diverse staff, the simple act of auditing various touchpoints may impact the culture of your workplace for years to come.
Dive deep into the conversations and actively listen
Hiring diverse talent means also embracing and accommodating diverse work styles. Say someone on the autism spectrum were to require minimal distractions to be productive. How do you engage your listening skills and help? Maybe this looks like allowing that employee to spend a little extra on some quality noise-canceling headphones. You could even provide an office that would normally be reserved for a more senior staff member.
Accommodation goes a long way for someone who might have been overlooked earlier in their career. In the past, I’ve had to leave work environments that I felt weren’t allowing me to be who I really am. I know other diverse hires have had many experiences that are no different and as a result, they might not be as comfortable approaching you for support as a typical staff member. See to their needs before they have to ask for them if you can.
Some of your diverse hires have spent decades facing roadblocks in the workplace due to issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even all of the above. They may also have deep scars from workplace interactions surrounding their individuality, whether it’s from the constant pressure to quiet their celebratory personality or a constant barrage of ‘tests’ to see if their performance as a neuro-atypical employee changes. Your offering the olive branch may be just what they need to skyrocket to the list of top performers.
The key to retaining diverse talent
Valuing your diverse hires takes more than pointing out their uniqueness. It takes respecting their experience and empowering them to offer their unique perspectives and strengths. By making these micro-changes, you’re not only strengthening the fabric of your company, but also setting the stage for a lasting culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Colin Urquhart is a diversity and inclusion leader and a passionate writer. He writes from the perspective of an openly gay employee in the modern workforce on topics like LGBT lifestyle, diversity and inclusion, and about his rescues, a dog named Peanut and Jade the black cat.