Shirley Davis Sheppard, vice president of diversity and inclusion at SHRM, sees a diverse workforce as being “a fresh and necessary perspective to a business.” Still, a new survey shows that only 38 percent of organizations said that their retention strategies are designed to help retain a diverse workforce. Sheppard spoke with Diversity Executive about why it is important for an organization to retain a diverse workforce, why inclusion is more important than diversity and what the state of HR will look like in five years.
What makes having a diverse organization so important?
I think it’s important that you have diversity in your organization because it is reflective of the changing global workforce. You have to tap into a much more diverse virtual, hyper-connected, global workforce and you can’t have an entire workforce that all looks the same because that’s not what the real world looks like. You have to have an inclusive culture and that is when you start to get the best work out of people. You get (your employees) more engaged, they are more likely to come up with better ideas, you have them thinking about better ways to make products to better service your customers — all of this happens when you’re inclusive.
How do employee retention strategies for a diverse workforce differ from previous strategies?
In general, long before we had our focus on inclusion, we still had differences within the organization, but you also had very homogeneous workforces, and not everyone looked like they do today. So, retention strategies in general still exist for all the workforces, but you have to ensure that your retention strategies are including women, people of color, people with disabilities, people with different religious backgrounds and beliefs — you have to make sure that it is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and that it is a very customized, person-by-person strategy, and that’s where good leadership comes in.
People want to work for a leader in this day and age who respects who they are, understands that they are different and that they bring different things to the workforce and are motivated by different things. One person might be motivated by money, another might be motivated by having challenging work or having the opportunity to grow and develop. You have to make sure that your retention strategies are very customized to the diverse workforce that we now have.
Research tells us that historically and traditionally, women are more likely to turn over and are more likely to be marginalized and that they don’t get the same growth and development opportunities at the same rate as their male counterparts. Your retention strategy has to make sure that these women have mentors within the organization and that they have sponsors who can support them.
Fifty-seven percent of HR professionals say that their retention strategies are designed to increase diversity. Is that an increase from previous years? In which way is it trending?
It’s hard to tell because of the recession, and when the recession happened, a lot of jobs got cut. Now this didn’t mean that we weren’t looking for good, diverse talent, we just didn’t have as many available jobs. Those numbers can be skewed because of those economic factors. The trend is moving upward though, because as we recruit, we are still looking for more women and people of color. I used to recruit 10 years ago, and I still get calls from recruiters and search firms specifying that they are looking for more diversity in their candidates.
Do you see diversity as a problem within most organizations, and if so, what can they do to achieve better diversity?
I don’t see diversity being the problem as much as inclusion. Inclusion is lacking in the sense that you recruit great diverse talent and get them into the organization and they are either stagnant in their growth or they are not set up for success, or they don’t stay as long in the company and you find out that they are not engaged. When we look at engagement data, we find that those who are the least engaged tend to be the baby boomers who now have to work a lot longer than they expected. Sometimes you find the younger generation being more engaged, but they only stay at a job for four to five years, so once their engagement is starting to lower, they are already looking for another job.
What will the future of diversity and inclusion look like five years from now?
I definitely think that there will be a greater focus not as much around getting diverse talent, because diversity just is. You are going to have to recruit now from a workforce that, wherever you look, wherever you are there is going to be different levels of diversity, not just race and gender. Even if you have a homogeneous group, you still have a diverse group, whether it is diversity of thought, belief, etc.
Five years from now more organizations are going to be focused on how they can leverage that diverse talent to get the best ideas and to provide the best products to their clients. They also need to be more innovative as they grow globally and try to compete globally. More and more CEOs have said that their No. 1 concern in the next five years is filling that skill gap for the new kind of jobs that are coming out. The future is going to be that they will use inclusion as the catalyst to help them be more innovative and competitive.
Eric Short is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.