As a workforce culture consultant and diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) expert, I have helped many companies that are struggling to recruit and retain minority employees. I’m always excited to help with this as I can understand the challenge from both an employer and employee perspective.
In recent years, I have heard a number of companies deplore the extra efforts made to recruit highly qualified minority employees, only to see them leave after a short period of work. While this article specifically discusses how to recruit and retain highly skilled minority employees, there are many lessons that apply to any organization seeking to create a welcoming and inclusive culture.
What it means to be a minority
Let’s start with the clarity around the terminology. I define minority employees or minority groups as anyone who is under-represented within an organization. Under-representation can be, but is not limited to, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status. economic, language, ability, age, religious commitment or political perspective.
Highly skilled minority employees
I have worked with minority leaders in different sectors who are struggling to find a sense of belonging within their organizations. Workplace culture determines how they navigate their identity within the organization (and, often, the community they live in following a move). Highly qualified minority employees are sought after. They have more autonomy and flexibility than some employers recognize, which means they can easily quit a job and find a position that suits them better. Employers and minority employees would be better off with recruitment and retention strategies aimed at fully integrating new employees from under-represented demographic groups.
Stay or go
I often hear the frustration of employers not being able to retain minority employees after having invested so much in the recruitment and orientation phase. The aggravation is often accompanied by amazement that someone chooses to leave a prestigious position and a big salary. We sometimes have the impression that they, the employer, were doing the minority employee a service by getting them to work for their company. I start by reminding the employer that he does not have the upper hand in the engagement. The reason the minority employee has the advantage is that they have skills and talents that are in demand and generate constant interest from recruiters and other employers. They can take their talent anywhere. They won’t stick around because you’ve decided to do everything you can to recruit them. They don’t owe you loyalty, especially if you, the employer, haven’t invested in an inclusive workforce culture.
Business and community adjustment
I tell business owners that to maximize the investment in recruiting highly skilled minorities, you need to do your due diligence. Employers have a responsibility to put in place recruited minority employees to be successful both inside and outside the workplace. Does the person you recruit match your corporate culture and, if they move, are there connection points for them in the community?
Many companies think they can get out of this problem. Some employers rely too much on compensation, especially if it is a minority often associated with lower socio-economic status. Employers will hide behind real change with a big paycheck. Don’t just rely on competitive pay or perks to keep minority employees around if they are struggling to embed identity and fairness into your business or community.
Recruitment strategies that help retain minority employees
Companies can do preliminary work that can help improve minority employee satisfaction with the organization and the community as a whole. Employers must be intentional in getting to know the new employee beyond the skills they bring to the company. Without being invasive, ask questions such as:
● What do they like to do for fun?
● What do they do for social activities?
● Do they belong to a faith community?
● Are they part of affinity groups?
● What kinds of foods do they like to eat?
● What do they like to do for fun?
● Where do they go for personal hygiene (haircuts and salons), again without being intrusive.
Minority employees know they will have to adjust to a new culture when they take on a new job. But they also recognize that when they start to feel undervalued or unappreciated, they may turn to an organization or community that is more receptive to them. And let’s not forget what a loss this is for your organization. It goes way beyond financial loss. This person could be just the person you need to take your organization to the next level. Highly skilled minority employees have so much to offer beyond their demographics. Business leaders must engage in new recruitment and retention practices in order to benefit from the diversity of ideas and experiences that accompany highly skilled minority employees.
Deo Mwano is a social impact innovator whose work focuses on education, technology, business, community and individual development. Deo runs the consultancy firm Deo Mwano, providing multidisciplinary services including speaking, training, creating engaging empowering content, facilitating workshops for businesses and nonprofits, and l integration of school culture. The opinions expressed are those of the author.