How To Retain Diverse Talent

Diversity efforts that focus entirely on the hiring pipeline while ignoring the environment the diverse talent is entering are missing a huge part of the picture.

Don’t get me wrong. Hiring diverse talent from outside your network and using tactics like blind auditions to remove systemic bias from the hiring process is incredibly important work. But all that work will fail if you haven’t made a space where people from diverse backgrounds can feel welcome and thrive. 

Which means you’ll be missing out on a huge opportunity for your business to thrive.

We know, thanks to the work of the University of Michigan’s Dr. Scott Page, that teams with diverse mental toolkits tend to perform better than homogenous ones. Yet even when we go outside our mostly white, male, MBA-educated circles and invite others into them, we generally ask the new people to normalize their behavior to our culture, rather than making space for theirs. 

It’s no wonder companies have trouble retaining diverse talent. 

Asking diverse groups to conform is obviously a problem at a societal level, where white supremacy and patriarchy have enforced a dominant way of being. BIPOC communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and women — when they’re not excluded entirely — are asked to conform to a white male perspective in order to participate. 

But when we allow this problem to persist on an organizational level, we risk silencing the diverse and innovative voices on our team, flattening the value each individual brings by asking them to remake themselves to fit a predetermined and inflexible culture. 

Because our businesses are reflections of society, these implicit biases will naturally be found within our teams. Unless, that is, we do the work required to remove them. 

Back in the ’80s, Wendell Berry wrote a series of philosophical essays titled What are People For?, where he digs deep into the essential nature of what a human is about.

I like to pose a corollary to that question: “What are businesses for? 

On the one hand, businesses are meant to produce value for shareholders. But on the other hand, businesses are the place where many of us spend most of our days, and our jobs impact nearly every other aspect of our lives, from social network to family.

If we take a narrow view of what business is for — creating value — we end up turning that business into a place that isn’t welcoming to the humans that make it all work. We miss out on opportunities for business to drive impact beyond profit and, frankly, we miss out on growth and profit in that business as well.

What if we chose to make space for new ideas, experiences, and people rather than sticking with the status quo? What if we chose to co-create our environments with the people that we work with, rather than teaching them “how things are done around here”?

Mindfully making space for diversity is uncomfortable work, but it is crucial if we want to create high-performing teams and thriving businesses. And if your organization is already doing the work of diversifying your talent pipeline, you need to do this uncomfortable work in order to make sure those efforts aren’t wasted.

If you want to learn how to co-create an environment where every member of your team can contribute their best work, get in touch. We would love to talk with you.

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