Steps to Retain Diverse Talent

A 2011 study, “Women Matter 2,” by McKinsey and Co., found that companies with an above average proportion of women on their management committees delivered better performance than those with a below average proportion of women. The data also revealed that companies with more women on their boards outperformed rivals — with a 42 percent higher return on sales, 53 percent higher return on equity and a 66 percent higher return on invested capital.

Moreover, in the book Managing Diversity in Today’s Workplace, Michele Paludi writes that diverse groups yield a wider range of ideas to solve problems than homogeneous groups because of different experiences.

So why do organizations still struggle with having diverse talent in leadership positions, as recent research would suggest?

With this knowledge, more companies should begin to recruit diverse talent. However, once on the team, organizations must address the challenge of retaining that talent. And, for some, diverse talent might already be in the pipeline.

Here are several actions that organizations can take to retain their diverse and high-performing leaders:

Actively use incentives, cash and non-cash, with your organization: Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” with a more diverse workforce grew 14 percent versus peer companies’ growth of 6 percent — and they did so by providing incentives. Ensure incentives are aligned with corporate goals and that participants understand the programs.

Train supervisors to coach their teams: When recruiters speak with candidates and learn about why leaders are interested in changing jobs, it is largely because of the supervisor, not the company. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman write in their book, First Break All the Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

If employees don’t get along with their managers, don’t like them or respect them, they will leave a company — despite a high salary or great benefits. A bad manager is a big factor in employee performance. A good manager, no matter the salary, will inspire loyalty.

If a manager thinks diversity is important, the subordinates will feel the same way. And if the subordinate is a minority, he or she will feel more inclined to stay with the company and the manager.

Measure organizational health and perspective: Each organization should engage a methodology that monitors its overall health and data for supervisors and smaller work groups.

Most important, the data from the surveys should be used to measure progress and develop action plans to continually improve an individual or total work group level.

Facilitate mentoring: The concept of mentorship occasionally leads to unrealistic expectations from the mentee. However, a “two up” supervisor can have an active working relationship with the diverse leader. A regular “touch base meeting” can provide guidance and direction from a more senior perspective. For diverse talent, there may not be a leader who is senior of the same “group.”

Conduct active monitoring of performance and advancement: In many organizations diverse talent is promoted at a slower rate than their peers. Closer monitoring of promotions at all levels will better align promotions with performance.

Dwain Celistan is an executive vice president and global diversity practice leader for DHR International, a global executive search firm. He can be reached at