Keeping Your Diverse Talent: Why They Leave and What You Can Do About It

By Jaffe Dickerson and Corinn Jackson

Building a diverse workforce has become a business imperative.

According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, a challenge for employers looking to achieve diversity in the workplace is retaining the talent they worked so hard to recruit. Losing diverse stars can be frustrating and a morale-killer for colleagues and managers and a justification for customers and clients to move business opportunities.

Here are five (5) key reasons companies lose diverse talent and strategies for keeping diverse workers happy, productive and on your team.

So why do they leave?

Common reasons employees leave

Here are some common culprits:

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  • Better money — “It’s not the money, it’s the money.” Compensation is a tangible demonstration of respect, success and value to the organization. If someone polled attorneys about their reasons for working killer hours for demanding clients in often hostile and adversarial work environments, it’s doubtful many would say “it’s because I love the work!” Rather, better money says, “We’re willing to pay you more because we think you’re worth it.” Who doesn’t want to hear that?
  • Better lifestyle — People seeking fulfillment by engaging in activities with families or a broader community may decide they can be happy with a less traditional career path offering greater flexibility. No one on their death bed says, “My only regret is that I didn’t spend more time in the office.”
  • Better opportunities — Most of us don’t see our current rung on the ladder as our final resting place. But for many diverse workers, the glass ceiling is both perception, and in many instances, reality – particularly when an employer’s more senior ranks lack diversity. Would you say “yes” to a move from a manager to a regional manager? Or a staff attorney to Chair of the Acquisitions and Mergers Department? Or faculty member to Dean?
  • Better environment — Can you put a price tag on working with people whom you trust or with whom you share a background or experiences? How valuable is working with people who know what you are going through?
  • Mo’ Better” — Sometimes your employees don’t know what they want; they only know they are no longer getting it where they are. Like any relationship, the grass can look greener (or less wilted) across the street, and there’s at least a chance to grab that elusive thing called “happiness.”

So how do you keep them?

5 ways to keep employees on board

  1. Stay competitive — If your diverse employees chose your company because you offered an attractive compensation package, don’t make staying a financial sacrifice. Beyond its buying power, money is also tangible recognition of how much you value an employee and his or her contributions. Up-and-coming talent can often be lured away by “We think you’re an all star, and will pay you to perform like one.
  2. Flexible work arrangements — Consider offering flexible work arrangements to your workers who are battling the triple bind of work, raising kids or caring for needy parents or family members, and trying to keep their primary relationship with a spouse or significant other together. In a study conducted last year by The New York Times of non-working adults between the ages of 25 and 54, 61 percent of women cited “family responsibilities” as the reason they were not working, compared to only 37 percent of men. In the same study, nearly three-quarters of women who identified as homemakers said that they would consider reentering the workforce for a position that offered flexible schedules or telecommuting options. Judge an employee’s performance on objective factors, not whether he or she fits the corporate model.
  3. Mentorships and other opportunity programs — A key strategy in keeping diverse talent is ensuring company leaders mentor and champion such talent. For company leaders lacking the skill to champion diverse talent, invest in teaching them how to do so effectively. No superstar enjoys an environment – long term – where colleagues and managers do not have the skills (or inclination) to interact with them appropriately and invest in their success. Such environments operate as an invisible hand pushing valuable, diverse talent out the door and, along with them, sometimes key customer and client relationships. Additionally, include diverse company leaders in mentoring and championing opportunities because they can offer meaningful support and career guidance. This can be as important as competitive compensation.
  4.  Affinity groups — An affinity group with shared backgrounds, goals, or interests can be an important anchor for diverse workers. If affinity groups form without management’s input, the company should make sure to provide a welcome environment. Affinity groups help diverse workers know that they are not alone, provide needed education to the wider workplace, and invaluable mentoring opportunities. Company support sends a clear message that the employer celebrates, rather than just tolerates, diversity.
  5. Water your grass — Make sure diversity is a top-down and ongoing initiative at your company. It is not enough for management to just recruit diverse workers — like any relationship, you have to keep putting in the work to keep it going strong. If you worked with local nonprofits or professional organizations that target women or minority groups in hiring to get diverse employees on your team, maintain ties with those groups and support membership and involvement by your workers. The company should also a) develop and implement diversity training to employees — particularly those in supervisory positions; and, b) establish a company diversity commission or council that not only looks for hiring opportunities but regularly takes the company’s temperature on ongoing diversity issues in the workplace.

When people flourish, other want to join

Remember, there is no one magical key to retaining diverse talent. A critical component, however, is to view diversity as an ongoing effort extending beyond just recruitment into workplace culture, mentorships, affinity groups, and community outreach.

Doing so not only makes your company a place that attracts diverse employees, but it can create an environment in which diverse workers remain – and encourage others to join – because they are flourishing.

Jaffe Dickerson is a Shareholder in the Los Angeles office of Littler Mendelson, and a board member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. Littler is the largest employment and labor law practice in the world representing management. He has been a specialist in the field of labor and employment law for over 30 years and represents public and private sector employers in all aspects of labor and employment law before state and federal administrative agencies and courts. He is a founding member of Littler’s Diversity Council and is the former chair. He helps employers create diversity programs that are legally defensible and monitors their success. He can be contacted at jdickerson@littler.com.

Corinn Jackson is Knowledge Management Counsel in the Los Angeles office of Littler Mendelson, and a member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. She creates and manages legal and electronic resources to assist on counseling employers in all areas of labor and employment law. Her practice includes matters arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage and hour issues and other state and federal laws governing the employment relationship. She can be contacted at cjackson@littler.com.

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