It’s been more than a year since the Black Lives Matter movement spurred many companies to acknowledge racism and inequality at work, and in that time, diversity, equity, and inclusion organizations like the one I work for, InHerSight, have seen a huge uptick in employers interested in attracting and retaining talent from underrepresented backgrounds.
I, for one, love the increased engagement in making our workplaces more equitable and inclusive, but in order to make noticeable progress where it counts, DEI efforts need more oomph in every way—transparency, goal-setting, financial backing, language usage, and more.
All of these factors contribute to how potential hires and current employees gauge a company’s level of commitment and follow-through to both supporting marginalized groups and making them feel welcome at work.
According to InHerSight research, while such DEI visibility and measurability is important during the recruiting process, it later becomes crucial to the retention of employees. From March to May, we surveyed 3,000-plus people on how much an employer’s engagement with DEI matters to them when applying to a company, accepting a job offer, and deciding to stay with an organization. Here are some of our most illustrative findings:
- As a group (aka, not broken down by demographic), many respondents were unsure whether they were more or less likely to apply to or accept a job offer from a company without visible and measurable DEI engagement, but their certainty grew at the retention stage: 53% said they were unlikely or very unlikely to stay with a company that did not have visible or measurable DEI engagement.
- Similarly, women respondents were mostly unsure during the application and job offer stage, but 54% said they were unlikely or very unlikely to stay with a company that lacked DEI engagement. This is in stark contrast to men who responded to the survey: Only 25% said they were unlikely or very unlikely to stick with a company without visible or measurable DEI engagement, while 62% said they were likely or very likely to stay.
- Notably, respondents in the self-described category for gender identity were neither very likely nor likely to apply to, accept a job offer from, or stay with a company that didn’t have visible and measurable DEI engagement.
- Broken down by race, DEI engagement was important across the board for the retention of employees, with more than half of respondents in each group leaning toward being unlikely or very unlikely to stay with an organization without such initiatives. Interestingly, DEI efforts in terms of retention mattered most to Latino/Latina/Latinx respondents (70%) and Pacific Islander respondents (63%).
- More than 60% of all LGBTQ respondents also say they’d question whether to stay at a company without visible or measurable DEI engagement.
These data points underline the importance of strategically implementing and communicating DEI initiatives, but how can employers use this knowledge to better support their current and future workforce? Here are three insights we at InHerSight have gathered from the DEI work we do every day.
Publish your diversity, equity, and inclusion data
The concept of publishing DEI data isn’t new, but how you do it matters enormously. Opt for transparency first, always. According to Kamila Elliott, from our partner organization GRID 202,
“The numbers should be provided by title, location, and management versus by individual contributors. Often, companies provide diversity data for the whole organization, not mentioning that many of their diverse employees are disproportionately in entry-level or operational roles.”
Provide richer, more insightful data, then communicate that information effectively and often. Don’t tuck it away on a rarely visited corporate diversity webpage. Instead, share it with employees and on public-facing platforms alongside your plan to remedy areas that need more representation. Plan on updating these parties on your progress, or lack of, regularly. This is an ongoing conversation, and your continued engagement and honesty, without prompting, will bolster trust.
Make more strategic partnerships
Align financially with brands that speak to your DEI mission. Internal policy and culture support are paramount, but in May, Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, senior policy manager at AIDS United, reminded us that external partnerships can do serious damage to DEI efforts, namely if those connections conflict with a company’s DEI messaging and goals. Here’s Rodríguez-Roldán speaking on supporting LGBTQ+ employees specifically:
“Companies need to engage in their own advocacy along the lines of not supporting, for example, when you make corporate donations, refuse to support politicians who engage in harmful anti-trans rhetoric or policies. If you are supporting harmful anti-trans politicians, you are in the end harming your trans employees and even harming your own ability to retain them.”
Instead, use your money to underline your commitment to diversity. Take AT&T. In the past 51 years, the telecommunications company, which has a long-running supplier diversity program, has spent over $187 billion with businesses owned by certified minorities, women, service-disabled veterans, LGBTQ+ people, veterans, and people with disabilities. Does seeing that kind of commitment to community support matter to employees? Absolutely.
It’s time to refresh our approach to DEI messaging, starting with readability. One of the benefits of working at a DEI-focused company is that I read DEI statement after DEI statement from organizations of all sizes. The common flaw? Many rely heavily on vagueness—an attempt to play it safe, no doubt—and end up skirting the issues they’re trying to solve. Blanket statements like “we ensure all employees feel welcome here” don’t mean anything, especially if they beg other questions. How do you know they feel welcome? What do you do to foster that feeling? How would you respond if someone didn’t feel welcome? These questions linger after a simple seven-word sentence.
Try approaching messaging this way: Instead of overpromising or empty-promising, stick with plain, informed, and actionable language. If talking about race, gender, or other diversity issues at your organization feels uncomfortable to you, consider that you feeling comfortable isn’t a requirement. Thoughtfulness, empathy, and transparency are. Regardless of the reason for the message, the end goal is for every person reading it to understand your values and how you plan to live up to them.
Beyond readability, remember, too, that prospective and current employees are looking for signals of your support of who they are all the time—and sometimes in the simplest, most baseline ways. Ahead of an InHerSight focus group, one woman told me this of applying to her current company:
“Their webpage was still very startup-y, but I definitely got the sense that I should just be myself and relax if I wanted to get a job there. I also specifically noticed that they had pictures of employees with bright hair, which is something I had to give up at my old job so that just made me feel comfortable.”
My favorite thing about this feedback is that it speaks to the reality of why focusing on DEI matters at work and why so many companies are still missing the mark: Employees from marginalized and underrepresented groups are looking for workplaces where being themselves, their whole inseparable selves, won’t affect their careers or lives. That’s not an outlandish request by any means. In fact, that bar is low, and we have a great capacity to deliver more.
Beth Castle is the managing editor at InHerSight.