In case you’re still doubting the importance of a diverse workplace (and, let’s be honest: many people use weak arguments to do just that), here is some recent research to help you out.

McKinsey’s January 2018 research on diversity and inclusion confirms that gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, continue to be correlated to financial performance across multiple countries worldwide.

A recent survey from the Northern California Human Resource Association, and Waggl, 96 percent of respondents said that they believe cultivating diversity in the workplace is essential for driving innovation.

However, according to a survey of 200 HR professionals we carried out in February 2018, only 47 percent of companies have a policy in place for managing and retaining diverse talent.

Of the 53 percent that don’t have policies, only 13 percent of those companies are planning on working on a policy to manage and retain diverse talent.

One of the issues is that a lot of attention has been focused on stamping out hiring bias as a way to improve workplace diversity, so much so that efforts to help with retaining a diverse workforce have been overlooked. Hiring is just the first part of the problem to address: to truly achieve a diverse workforce, you also need to create a culture of diversity, and embed it in your talent management strategy.

Research firm Gartner says (available to paid clients):

“Teams do not need just skills, but also diversity in their composition and inclusion in their culture to challenge their options and come up with the best option.”

Here we offer actionable advice as to how you can implement initiatives to help with retaining a diverse workforce.

Go beyond box ticking and make it part of your culture

Implementing policies to make your workforce a bit more diverse in order to tick boxes or complying with government regulations is not a good way of retaining a diverse workforce.

Doing it so you can share some posts on Instagram for International Women’s Day, isn’t enough. These efforts can even backfire, having a negative effect on diversity. For example, more than 80 percent of HR professionals said that their company is supportive when it comes to providing resources to develop diverse talent according to our survey, but yet this doesn’t tally with the reality.

According to the Women in the Workplace 2017 study,  90 percent of companies reported that gender diversity is a priority, but only 52 percent of employees agreed. 52 percent of employees also said that the company focuses on gender diversity because it looks good.

Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of PILOT employee coaching software, explains:

“Some diversity efforts can come off as patronizing, making candidates feel like they are part of a quota or compliance program, rather than the organization being a level playing field that embraces difference to create better business outcomes and represent their customer.

“Many companies use a Noah’s Ark strategy when it comes to diversity — just make sure you have a few of each category in the org and call it good. Often this strategy backfires for a host of reasons, including failure to create a culture that actually embraces such representative diversity in an inclusive way.”

Instead your company needs to make a genuine commitment to embracing diversity across all aspects of your company and processes, and to critically assess your culture to make sure it supports inclusion initiatives. This has a stronger influence on whether these initiatives will succeed.

Move from diversity to inclusion

The buzzword of the moment is diversity but, as we’ve seen that can lead people to feel excluded if they aren’t part of the specific group being targeted. What is needed is a shift to making anyone feel like they are appreciated and listened to, on a regular basis.

Brooks says:

“Inclusion is an order of magnitude more difficult than simply diversity, in my opinion. Creating a culture that’s more than just an “open door policy” from the 90’s, that’s truly the kind of place where people get a sense of belonging an appreciation, creates the conditions for a massive ROI from diversity.”

This culture should be inclusive, rather than exclusive, and be about being human and connecting people.

Kate Benediktsson, chief marketing officer at voice activated feedback platform Waggl, says: “Many companies have replaced humanity with excessive measurements. It’s also easy to alienate people, from any group or walk of life, so companies need more inclusive spaces where all voices are represented and treated as equal.”

Recognize all kinds of diversity

Many diversity efforts only focus on gender and ethnicity. While these aspects are important, in order to retain a diverse workforce, you need to widen your perspective. This includes age, disability, and neurodiversity.

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Source: Gartner

Gartner recommends including:

  • Cognitive (or intellectual) traits, from the kind of work people want to do and are good at, to the way they learn, process and organize information, and communicate.
  • Emotional (or personality) traits, which focuses on how people react in a given situation, their tolerance for risk, the way they lead (and follow), how much or how little they want to collaborate with other people, and their social style.

“When thinking about diversity it is important to remember that diversity spans beyond gender, race, or other more visible characteristics,” says Brooks. “Things like veteran status, sexual orientation, or even physical ability are often less obvious than if someone is a man or a woman.”

This means that companies need to consider approaches that let people be fully open about who they are as a person. According to research, 37 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics, and 45 percent of Asians say they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style.

Brooks explains: “Employees who can be themselves at work and “bring their whole self to work” often have very high loyalty to their employer and encourage their friends to either work there too or use their products or services.”

Involve everyone, not just the C-suite

While retaining a diverse workforce needs to be a priority right from the very top of the company, it also needs to embedded throughout all departments and levels of the company. Diversity is no longer just an issue that HR deals with in isolation.

Benediktsson explains: “Instead of the C Suite or the HR department coming up with lists of recommendations as to how to better retain a diverse workforce, companies should spread the responsibility, and get the opinions of their employees. They should also include them in any action items or follow ups to make sure they realize that their ideas are being worked on. Engaging employees again and again can help you understand how to best tackle these issues.”

But managers still need to lead by example if to help them retain a diverse workforce.

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Let people advocate for themselves

If diversity is a company wide priority, it’s important to empower minorities to advocate for themselves, instead of foisting policies on them and expecting them to comply.

Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a career advice and jobs board for women, says:

“We know from our research that women are using and creating change through their employee resource groups. Employers should be offering these affinity groups, if they aren’t already, and using them as a way to engage and empower their female employees.”

PILOT prides itself on having a diverse workforce and, according to Brooks, what they say really helps them is feeling empowered to advocate for themselves and solve their own issues.

He explains: “We’re working with one group in particular, a cohort of top-performing female sales executives in the insurance industry, who have embraced PILOT as a way for them to advance their careers by taking meaningful weekly action to grow and learn, prioritize their own development, and embrace new thinking about how to be a successful modern professional.”

Overhaul performance management programs

We’ve written extensively on how traditional performance management reviews are antiquated and ineffective, but they are also hurting diversity initiatives by taking away useful feedback mechanisms.

Benediktsson explains: “To improve diversity, companies need to move from traditional once a year, box ticking performance reviews, and instead give and get regular input and feedback. Retaining a diverse workforce is not a once yearly activity, and companies need to be getting feedback on how well they are doing regularly. This can also give you insight into common issues that drive high employee turnover, such as poor compensation and bad management.”

There are several related ways businesses can ensure programs are working, as shown in the below data from Forbes.

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Next steps in retaining a diverse workforce

If you’re only starting out on the road to achieving better diversity in your workforce, it can seem like an insurmountable task, but software can help here.

The Women4Tech event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona hosts a Hack_D_Gap Global Challenge, which profiles solutions that help promote and create diverse teams in an inclusive work environment.

I was lucky enough to see the finalists in 2017, all of which can help you improve diversity and inclusion in your company, and make your workplace a better place to be overall. Here we take a look at both new and existing solutions that:

  • Create awareness of gender diversity in the tech industry
  • Help to facilitate gender balance
  • Support work-life balance.

Survey Methodology

This research is based on a survey of 215 full time HR professionals in North America. The survey was carried out in January 2018 using online survey tools.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch regarding use of the charts above, please contact karen@getapp.com.