Every diverse employee, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, deserves a company culture that supports and nurtures their advancement and fosters authentic inclusion that demonstrates their unique value to the organization.

Achieving and sustaining a culture that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion, though, requires a robust commitment from leadership, an intentional approach to recruitment and ongoing investments of time and attention by all employees. Businesses and professional organizations that mirror those ambitions and “walk the talk” will succeed in retaining employees, and those that don’t won’t.

Homogeneity is the enemy of equity. As Robin DiAngelo wrote in “White Fragility,” “If I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them.” Therefore, successful workplace equity and inclusion efforts must be focused on the identification and removal of barriers to success while promoting inclusion and collaboration.

All equity efforts must start with a commitment from those in leadership positions. Too often, these efforts are “assigned” to diverse employees, most commonly employees of color, as “their issues.” That is a flawed strategy. A quote from Ibram X. Kendi in his new book “How to Be an Antiracist” puts a new point on that failed approach. Kendi writes: “Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy.” Commitment to equity and inclusion must be embodied in leadership. It is a corny old saying, but a true one: Lead by example.

Successful retention starts with recruitment. It is not an excuse to claim there is not enough diversity in the recruiting pool. It is incumbent on the organization to seek out talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences. If there are 10 people interviewed for a position and there is only one applicant of color, for example, then that applicant only has a 10 percent chance of being hired. Recruiters must strive to assure that the pool of applicants matches the equity goals and commitment of the organization.

Organizations must consider who is doing the interviewing and should apply these parameters to ensure corporate commitments to equity are woven through the interview process:

▪ Do those interviewers themselves reflect the company’s
commitment to equity and live the culture?
▪ Have the interviewers been through implicit bias?

A panel of interviewers should ask all applicants the same set of questions that align with core job qualifications. Panels can serve as a check on implicit bias and assure a balanced interview.

Retaining employees of diverse backgrounds requires a coherent and purposeful strategy of recruiting diverse talent. Further, one cannot hire employees with diverse backgrounds without a culture that celebrates diversity. An organization like glamazon has given Amazon a reputation as a supportive workplace in the LGBTQ community. Employer investment and support pays dividends in retention. Affinity groups should be encouraged and endorsed at the highest levels.

In law firms, our attorneys are our most valuable capital. Capital needs to be preserved, but will only grow with wise investment. Just as bias needs to be eliminated from the hiring process, it must also be eradicated from advancement and evaluation decisions. There needs to be a uniform evaluation policy to promote retention. In addition to the routine exit interview, periodic interviews of diverse employees who stay with the company would yield meaningful information to fuel, or adjust equity efforts. Formal mentorship programs are a must for retention efforts.

Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not dead and will likely never die. But recognizing the barriers they create to employee success will weaken their insidious effects.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

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