Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are top of mind for a lot of candidates and employees these days. So, if your IT organization is looking to recruit, hire and retain talent, dedication to DEI is more important than ever. And that means more than just recruiting and hiring diverse candidates. You will also need to foster an environment that makes everyone feel welcomed and that their voice is just as important as anyone else in the organization.
A survey from Deloitte of more than 1,300 full-time employees in the U.S. found that 81% of respondents indicated that inclusion was an important factor when choosing an employer. Additionally, 39% said they would leave their current company for a more inclusive one, and 25% said they’ve already left an organization for a more inclusive one — 30% of those being millennial workers.
“Too many organizations today treat diversity and inclusion as a ‘program’ or ad hoc initiative. To foster real cultures of belonging, where human qualities and differences are embraced and employees feel valued, D&I needs to be tied to everything that happens within the organization — acquiring new talent, building equity with that talent, competing in the market, and more. It should be the lens through which senior leaders make decisions,” says William T. Rolack, VP of D&I at Workforce Logiq, a contingent workforce management solution.
Following are tips on how your organization can establish an organizational culture that not only develops diverse teams but retains them for the long haul.
Educate your organization
Launching DEI initiatives is an important part of establishing an inclusive culture, but doing so alone is not enough. In the study by Deloitte, 71% or respondents said they would prefer working at an organization that demonstrates inclusive behaviors but has inconsistent inclusion programs, rather than stay at an organization that has “high-quality inclusion programming, but inconsistent inclusive behaviors.” That means you can have all the DEI initiatives and programs under the sun, but if your leadership and management don’t fall in line with their behavior, your employees will notice.
“Educate your entire organization, from entry-level staffers all the way up through senior leadership, on which terms and phrases used regularly in your line of work could be considered offensive and why. A more welcoming and inclusive work environment expands the talent pool and boosts thought diversity, driving innovation and performance for the organization,” says Jim Bureau, CEO of Jaggaer, a cloud-based digital procurement services provider.
Make sure your leadership teams are on the same page — and receive the same diversity and inclusion education as everyone else. To ensure your corporate environment is welcoming to everyone, the example must be set by leadership first. And if incidents arise that make employees feel uncomfortable or discriminated against, they need to feel comfortable speaking up.
“Change starts at the top. CEOs and other senior leaders must reinforce the organization’s message around inclusion and empower team members with the overall vision. Procurement and HR are relied on to build and sustain diverse talent pools. And D&I leaders own the initiative internally, set and drive the strategy, shape the practices, and measure results,” says Workforce Logiq’s Rolack. “Every voice needs to be at the table to drive tangible progress.”
Evaluate your onboarding process
In an effort to increase the diversity of their teams, many companies are looking beyond their traditional pipelines to establish partnerships with organizations, such as NPower, that seek to create career pathways for individuals from underserved communities. Bank of America, for example, has hired more than 60 NPower interns to work full-time at its New York office.
For BofA, one key to retaining its NPower hires, who are mostly young adults who come from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds, has been to ensure that internal processes are set up to support them. It starts with onboarding — ensuring that candidates are given everything they need to know about the company and introducing them to potential mentors and peers.
At BofA, NPower hires are typically matched with current employees who also went through the NPower program themselves. This enables NPower hires to connect with people in the organization who share their unique experience joining the company. Starting a new job can be stressful for anyone — but for employees who may be new to corporate culture, having someone to connect with in the office who understands their experience can be extra valuable.
Carolina Ferreira, a former NPower student who has been working at BofA for more than three years since graduating from the program, found an “abundance of support from Bank of America co-workers and NPower,” including “endless mentors in the lines of business at the bank where I work every day.” Through the NPower program, she was trained and coached on everything she needed to know to become a successful technical support analyst for the bank’s FICC trading floor, where she still works today. The program supported her through the training and education, and the internal structures set up at BofA helped support her as she launched her career with the company.
“That’s really been the path that we’ve used — at the highest level it’s really onboarding and setting expectations, and obviously making sure that we are always checking in with our instructions and giving [new hires] an opportunity to learn the organization first, how they can contribute and how their role fits into the team,” says David Reilly, technology leader for Bank of America and NPower Board Chair.
Overhaul your IT and hiring terms
Jaggaer’s Human Equity Project is an internal group “aimed at increasing equity and making social progress” by evaluating the company’s systems, practices, documentation and policies to find insensitive language or bias. One simple step your organization can take is to follow in Jaggaer’s footsteps and eliminate the use of insensitive language and phrases in your organization.
“Most people don’t realize that many of the phrases we use in business and tech originate from oppression or prejudice — being grandfathered in, redlining a contract, the nitty gritty, and more,” says Bureau. “We often use these expressions unconsciously, but they can be offensive to others. It’s our responsibility as business leaders to do our part in the fight against systemic racism, and while that requires material changes to address structural inequalities, cleaning up our language is an important first step.”
Jaggaer overhauled its “entire technology platform, help desks, training programs and materials, sales collateral, documentation and policies and more” to replace terms such as “blacklist” and “whitelist” with “blocked list” and “safe list,” or replacing terms such as “master-slave system” with “controller-agent.” The company is also evaluating all its language to identify anything that may be “insensitive based on gender, sexual orientation or any other prejudices,” Bureau says.
Such steps can help make employees feel more comfortable in their jobs. It’s a simple, straightforward way that your organization can demonstrate to employees that DEI is something your company takes seriously and acts on consistently. You will still need to get buy-in, approval and budgets from leadership, but it’s a valuable investment if your organization is committed to diversity.
Establish strong mentorship programs
Mentorship programs might not sound groundbreaking, but for workers from underrepresented groups, mentorship programs can be a valuable resource for navigating corporate environments. Too often, mentorships are sparked by relationships built through networking and internal partnerships. But when workers don’t feel supported or welcomed in your organization, they’re also less likely to find a valuable mentor. It’s another subtle way that BIPOC workers can feel edged out when it comes to networking for promotions or raises.
“One of the best ways to support and foster internal diversity and inclusion issues is through mentorship. Giving diverse employees a dedicated person, who has been in their shoes, to go to for support and counsel in navigating hard situations can help them feel like someone is in their corner,” says Rolack. “Mentors can also help improve their skillsets and obtain the confidence needed to grow professionally and break into leadership positions.”
Third-party programs, such as NPower, can also help by providing a built-in network of mentors for employees hired through the program, thereby empower them with the extra resources to be successful in your organization.
Mentorship doesn’t just benefit the mentee, it can help set a standard for your entire department or organization. Reilly says that at BofA, pairing NPower hires or other hires from underrepresented backgrounds with mentors also gives the mentors a sense of motivation. “They realize that some of these new interns or new hires are looking up to them and see them as role models,” giving them an added sense of purpose in the organization, Reilly says.
Provide safe avenues for negative feedback
The survey from Deloitte found that 47% of respondents value “an atmosphere where I feel comfortable being myself” over workplace flexibility or a sense of purpose. If you foster an environment where your employees feel comfortable being themselves, they will be more effective, productive and less likely to leave your organization.
But creating an environment where all your employees feel comfortable being themselves takes a lot of reflection. Digging into your corporate culture to find blind spots, bias, racism or sexism isn’t an easy task. But it will be even harder to tackle if you don’t foster an environment that makes people feel safe speaking up about their own negative experience.
“When employees feel heard, they tend to be happier and stay with the company longer term,” says Rolack. “Specific mechanisms — anonymous surveys, real-time feedback channels and platforms, informal conversations during one-on-one meetings — will look different depending on the organization’s size, work culture, and more. Whatever the format of choice, open and honest upward communication is critical so employers can keep a pulse on staff’s thoughts and feelings as it relates to D&I, understand what’s working and what’s not, and take steps to address structural issues.”
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