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Talent Acquisition Week 2024 came to a close with a panel discussion on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and retaining underrepresented talent. Camille Tate (Head of Talent at Strava) and Jo Weech (Head of People and Talent at Exemplary Consultants) joined moderator Michele Shelton (CEO at Michele Shelton LLC) for a conversation on the state of DEI and practical tips for attracting and retaining talent.
The Relevance of DEI Today
Tate opened the discussion with a poignant reminder: Initially, DEI might have seemed like just another buzzword for companies to sprinkle into their marketing. Yet, for DEI to truly resonate and retain talent, it needs to transcend promotional messaging and become a lived experience at the company, every single day.
Managers need to understand that they each become the face of the company for their new hires, and must reflect and embody values (including diversity).
While diversity strengthens businesses, metrics shouldn’t drive the need for diversity. Striving for a diverse workforce should come from an authentic intention to build workplaces that reflect our society. As we learn more about diversity in the workplace, we know that it includes the acknowledgement and inclusion of different races, educational backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, military experience, and neurodivergence.
The DEI Landscape
In our exploration of the DEI landscape, Shelton shed light on a crucial point: appointing Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) surged in popularity as organizations aimed to visibly commit to diversity. However, the role of CDOs, central to driving DEI forward, has been fraught with challenges, leading to notably high turnover rates.
This conversation highlighted the reality that CDOs face—many of them were hired as part of a trend or a token appointment. The turnover issue highlights a disconnect between the expectations for these roles and the support provided to effect meaningful change. For DEI efforts to be sustainable and impactful, organizations need to do more than just fill a position.
Companies need to ensure that CDOs are equipped with the necessary tools and backing to navigate complexities, moving beyond superficial commitments to meaningful, systemic change.
Know Your “Why”
Both panelists stressed the importance of understanding your company’s “why” behind pursuing diversity, emphasizing that true success in DEI goes beyond surface-level achievements.
This foundational ‘why’ is key because it aligns diversity efforts with the organization’s broader mission, ensuring that initiatives are not just performative but driven by a real belief (at all levels of the organization) in the value of diverse perspectives and experiences.
By knowing your ‘why,’ you anchor your DEI strategies in purpose, making them more meaningful, sustainable, and integral to the organization’s core identity. Without this clear understanding, DEI efforts can be fleeting.
Practical DEI Advancement Guidance
It’s clear that for DEI values to be embodied throughout a company, they need to extend beyond recruiting. Tate, Weech and Shelton shared some guidance to make DEI initiatives more holistic and effective:
- Collaborate with HR Partners: DEI isn’t a standalone task for TA. It’s a collaborative effort that requires deep integration with HR processes. This partnership is crucial in weaving DEI into the fabric of the organization, from recruitment through to employee retention and development.
- Adopt Structured Hiring Processes: Implementing unbiased, structured hiring practices is fundamental. This approach not only helps in making fair, data-informed decisions but also ensures that the hiring process is transparent and equitable for all candidates. Interview processes should not feel like a “gotcha” experience. We are working with professionals who deserve to have the ability to prepare for their process.
- Engage in Inclusive Onboarding: Onboarding should go beyond administrative tasks, focusing on integrating new hires into the company culture and connecting them with their team. This period is critical for setting the tone of inclusivity and belonging.
- Train Managers on Diversity Management: Managers play a pivotal role in maintaining an inclusive environment. Training them to understand and value diverse perspectives fosters a workplace where every employee feels seen, heard, and valued.
- Prioritize Human Connection: At the heart of effective DEI initiatives is the understanding that we’re managing individuals with unique backgrounds, experiences, and needs. Prioritizing human connections over mere processes is essential in creating a workplace where everyone feels they belong.
The discussion underscored the importance of not just attracting diverse talent but also nurturing an environment where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive. By focusing on these strategic areas, organizations can move towards more inclusive workplaces where diversity is not just welcomed but celebrated.