The importance of developing underrepresented talent to improve retention
Why is retaining underrepresented talent important?
As the nation continues its post-pandemic recovery, job vacancies have reached a new peak. Over one million vacant roles were reported this month by the ONS. As a result, it is now undoubtedly a candidate market, making the fight for talent more competitive than ever.
In addition, market-driven salary inflation is increasing the risk of even happy employees being enticed by a more attractive offer elsewhere. These factors combined mean that hiring new talent is more painful, expensive, and time-consuming than ever before. So, investing in strategies to retain staff is no longer just critical for a business’ growth, but for its’ very survival.
We know that lack of career development is amongst the top reasons why employees leave a business, so it’s essential that organisations have proactive strategies in place to develop all members of the team. This is particularly important when it comes to diverse talent. Businesses are focusing and investing more and more in recruiting underrepresented talent, but those who do not make a conscious effort to nurture and progress these valuable members of the team risk creating a ‘leaky bucket’ scenario, as employees become disillusioned and leave.
Our research shows it takes as long as five months for the average employee to feel as though they truly belong within a business. The pattern of hiring, induction, and rehiring when diverse talent is lost uses a huge amount of resource and is simply not sustainable long-term.
Even for those who don’t leave immediately, a lack of investment in employee progression will inevitably have an impact on a business’s bottom line. Failure to utilise talented individuals within an organisation is, at best, a waste of valuable resources. At worst, these team members will become demotivated and apathetic. This will impact productivity levels, and therefore a businesses’ profitability.
Failure to retain a diverse workforce will also result in firms continuing to be held back by ‘group think’, putting them at a disadvantage compared to competitors who can draw on a wide range of opinions and backgrounds to drive decision-making. Businesses that are not truly diverse and inclusive will be stuck in the past, failing to attract the full breadth of talent available, meaning they fall further and further behind their diverse and inclusive competitors.
Are employers doing enough to retain existing and underrepresented employees?
Whilst many businesses are making progress when it comes to hiring underrepresented individuals, too little focus is being placed on nurturing and progressing these individuals once they have joined a business.
This is due, in part, to a belief amongst many employers that fixing the recruitment process will fix diversity and inclusion across the whole business. This is based on an outdated view that once people are in an organisation, they will naturally progress if they are talented enough. However, evidence suggests that this is simply not the case. In fact, research from Bridge Group into the financial services sectors demonstrates that those employees from lower socio-economic background progress 25% more slowly than their more advantaged counterparts, despite no performance difference. Even more worryingly, this number increases to 32% amongst workers who also identify as black.
How can employers improve progression and retention of diverse talent?
The first step to countering these challenges is to understand why diverse talent is not progressing within an organisation. These barriers might include things like a lack of a sense of belonging because the rest of the team are not like them; a lack of senior level champions like them; or a lack of awareness of opportunities.
Once the challenges have been identified, employers must consider the best tools to address them. For example, changing protocols when it comes to who is selected for new project teams or promotions.
For those diverse individuals who feel isolated within a business, the feeling of having someone ‘in their corner’ to offer advice, encouragement and feedback can also be incredibly effective. A great way to facilitate this is by introducing mentoring programmes but, crucially, it needs to be ‘mentoring with purpose’. This means mentoring schemes that have a clear set of objectives. To significantly increase the chances of those objectives being met, schemes should also offer mentees a choice of well-matched mentors.
When executed well, ‘mentoring with purpose’ schemes of this nature can be hugely impactful in helping both the mentee and the mentor to progress within an organisation. In fact, mentees are five times more likely to be promoted, than those without a mentor, and mentors themselves are six times more likely to be promoted. As such, mentoring can be considered a mutually beneficial tool to help upward career progression among all employees, irrespective of seniority.
A too often missed ingredient in the recipe when it comes to the progression and retention of underrepresented employees, it is to have senior level diversity champions who can talk about their journeys and lived experience, inspire others, and act as a voice for overlooked talent. An exclusively bottom-up approach to diversity simply won’t work in isolation.
Finally, it is vital to measure progress being made, as if targets are set, hitting them will take time. In order to properly track the impact that these new initiatives are having, decision-makers must assess where their business is now, and subsequently re-evaluate progress in future months. Metrics might include the number of employees within senior roles who are women or from a lower socio-economic background, promotions amongst underrepresented employees, or engagement with initiatives such as mentoring schemes. Progress must be measured at regular intervals, and the results shared within the wider organisation. There may well be a lack of data at the beginning of the process. However, this should not deter businesses from starting out. And if this measurement feels like a resource-heavy process, leveraging technology does not just reduce resource requirements but also means that schemes, such as mentoring, can be for the many, not just the privileged few.
The process of building a solid, effective retention strategy will take time, but any time wasted now will result in lost talent, money and productivity.