This article covers three recruitment and retention recommendations based on recent research by Trower & Gallagher: (a) policies and procedure issues, (b) coaching and mentoring needs, and (c) the demand for cultural diversity. While Cathy Trower and Anne Gallagher of the Harvard University offer recommendations based on data collected from more than 8500 respondents in higher education, we found it easy to generalize their talent management recommendations to other sectors and cultural diversity.
I. Provide clear retention and promotion policies and standards
One of the trouble makers for employees of color is that lack of clarity concerning what Historically Excluded Group members™ (HEG) need to do to succeed in their organization—especially with respect to retention and promotion. 1
They want clear, specific guidelines about the requirements for success. HEGs hired into fast track jobs, such as in healthcare management and software development, tend to be especially savvy about the importance of clear success criteria. Some boldly state that they want a written contract that quantifies the criteria so as to make the conditions as transparent as possible.
Here are some of the questions they tend to ask:
• How can I get the mentoring support I need?
• What are the weights given to performing the different responsibilities in my role? Which work groups and teams will offer me greater value?
• What does “excellence” mean in the organization?
• Is there a checklist of things I need to cover?
• Is there a promotion manual that I can follow?
While the above set of questions may seem naïve and downright arrogant, they reflect reactions to the reality of organizations that lack a culture of inclusion.
HEGs want constructive feedback as often as possible and long before the formal performance review. They want to know how they’re doing (e.g., the timeline toward a promotion and the standards used to measure their progress). In addition, they want to be acknowledged by their manager when major milestones are reached.
They are looking to hear things like “You are great as a team member. Your work is in on schedule, you support other team members, and have shown leadership potential. It will help if you develop your ability to deliver a higher quality product in your work.” This type of feedback helps them understand how best to use their time and gauge specific performance improvement needs.
It is too often assumed that new employees know what is expected of them. Trower and Gallagher state that it is assumed that they are to learn it “by osmosis, socialization, or reading between the lines.” What managers and supervisors and even colleagues fail to realize is that HEGs experience the situation differently due to a variety of factors that include culture and socialization that is different from the historically included. They ask what appears to others as naïve questions. Instead of getting answers, HEGs quickly learn that asking questions mean that you are not smart enough to figure out the game on your own. At the same time, if you do not ask questions you are certainly to fail. Trower and Gallagher calls this a reaction to a “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” organizational culture.
Organizations should provide written, accessible promotion and retention policies that include timelines, important deadlines, clear performance evaluation criteria, and a protocol used in making promotion decisions. HEGs want managers and supervisors trained in using these criteria, especially doing so in a uniform fashion.
Too often HEGs perceive the organization as not walking its talk. This is particularly the case when they see what is practiced is inconsistent with policies. In a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell culture, it may be hard to ask questions that help you clarify what you are seeing for fear of being marginalized. One native American engineer we met in our consulting work said that her organization simply has no integrity when it comes to cultural diversity because managers can easily side step policy to get their way. “A person of color does stand a chance in this organization when the people who manage them are not compelled to follow policy,” she said.
It is difficult when you are “the first.” The first woman manager in an organization does not have other women ahead of her to observe and model. While the promotion process may be based on a set of clear criteria, she knows that the additional factor for her is whether or not there are enough male managers who are willing to allow her in their club. This is one reason women who emulate male behavior tend to be more successful in getting access to the club. One of the challenges for females “doing the male thing” in an effort to make it into their club is that too many may fall short of getting it right. An example is a woman that was sent to me for executive cultural competence coaching because she had “playfully” pinched a male colleague on the buttocks. While this was something she observed male managers do often and had been a victim of it, she was unprepared for their reaction to a female “conducting herself in this manner.”
Many HEGs are undecided on whether they want to be in the club. It may be elite, but it is not easily integrated into how they identify themselves as an individual and culturally. They want to be promoted and enjoy the benefits of more responsibility as a leader, but they agonize over whether or not they want to expose themselves to a leadership club culture that they find distastefully exclusive. They feel that in order to make the senior managers feel comfortable, they have to put up with off color remarks, going with a group of them for cocktails, and adjusting to white male culture.
Talent management is about providing your employees with the support needed to add value to the organization. It is especially important to provide them with access to the range of rewarding opportunities. Providing a system like a retention and promotion institute can offer HEGs the courses, mentorship, and social networks needed to feel supported and included. The institute that is built with a balance between the organization’s needs and the changing needs of its workforce in general, and particularly its cultural diversity, will offer the highest return on investment. While the data indicate that this kind of program will be perceived as valuable, I don’t know of any organizations using it. I can say that many organizations can easily combine the existing mentoring program, affinity groups, and continuous education program to create the institute with relative ease.
Interpret tenure policies.
Most institutions strive for clarity and transparency, yet HEG employees remain insecure about the promotion process. One reason is that the “one-size-fits-all policy” do not specify criteria that account for cultural differences. It is up to individual managers and their departments to clarify how to achieve a more inclusive promotion policy and process. This might translate into providing HEG employees with a clear explanation of how specific policies are interpreted by the department and the human resource office.
Many HEGs have at least one senior person who has taken an interest in them and their success, but the individual tends to fall short of the cultural competence needed to understand their challenges or know how to offer the encouragement needed to deal with barriers they face in being fully included. Far too many HEGs do not have anyone in a more senior position who they feel has any interest in their success. Clarity in the policies and encouragement from the manager help HEGs manage the terrain better.
Being clear about policies is helpful, but even the best policy is subject to interpretation. Too often an HEG and a manager do not see eye-to-eye in matters concerning performance evaluation criteria and deficits. Because a certain amount of subjectivity is inherent in any evaluation, organizations need talent management strategies to make the experience more rewarding for HEGs.
II. Coaching & Mentoring
HEGs understand the importance of mentoring. Ideally, they want someone who is of their same cultural background, but will realistically settle for someone who will champion them in their efforts to succeed and grow professionally in the organization. They also don’t want or need mentoring at the cost of having to tolerate insensitivity. It is the trusted colleague or mentor that they can turn to for advice on how to navigate the culture of the organization that keeps them productive.
Consider the following real life incident. An African American and his white American male manager became friends. In fact, they spent time together outside of work. On a company business trip, the two of them were having a lot of friendly, non-business related conversation. The white manager tells a racial joke that the African American found insulting. Things were a bit uneasy between them for the remainder of the trip. The African American filed a formal complaint against his manager upon their return. The white manager confided during executive coaching that he thought the two them were friends and his joke was not intended to be insulting. He could not understand why his “friend” did not accept his apology or discuss how he felt more before filing a complaint.
A manager’s attitude towards cultural differences figures heavily in HEG employee satisfaction. Trower and Gallagher indicated that satisfaction with the department head is more important than clear promotion policies and even ahead of compensation.
At least five factors need to be considered in determining the extent that an HEG employee will bond with her or his mentor.
A Fast-Moving, Ever-Changing Organizational Culture. The modern organization is a daily hustle and bustle response to environmental forces, initiatives, and time-sensitive projects. It is difficult to set up a meeting, have lunch together, or just take time out for collegial connections. If the mentor or manager does not carve out the time, keep changing appointments, or forgets them, the HEG employee will likely spiral downwards.
Confusing autonomy and isolation. It’s easy to feel isolated when you are the only HEG, or one of a few, in your department or organization. You may have chosen to work in a department that is under represented by HEGs, but you do not choose to be isolated. This is the case for individual in the early stages of her career or the seasoned professional who is new to an organization. Understanding the organizational culture as quickly as possible is imperative for success. This is one reason that affinity groups pay off significantly.
Weak support systems. Many successful HEGs come from backgrounds in which they were encouraged to speak up and contribute. This is one factor among several that have made them successful. Workplace satisfaction is difficult when an HEG speaks up in an effort to make a contribution and reactions from the audience make him or her feel devalued. This reminds me of a deaf engineer working for a city administration engineering department. He found himself missing out on a lot of short hallway meetings because his back was turned to the conversation and no one took the time to bring it to his attention. When he turns around to see that the meeting was breaking up and asks a colleague what had transpired, he is all too often told it that it wasn’t important. There were days he did not feel like getting out of bed to go to work due to the stress of coping with such daily indignities.
Need to be prepared for the competitive nature of retention and promotion. Administrators know that it is essential to create a welcoming and supportive environment for HEG employees. They try hard to let them know that the organization values diversity and will not tolerate harassment. Yet, the organization falls short of offering opportunities to enhance collegiality with mentoring, connecting with other colleagues, and promoting a culture of support.
Orientation programs for new HEG employees that extend beyond a single day, cover the range of opportunities and support, and make connections to colleagues across the organization give the individual a general sense of the culture and how to fit in.
It can be argued that much of what has been stated so far applies to most any employee, rather than HEGs in particular. The next section focuses on cultural diversity specific retention and promotion issues.
III. The Demand for Diversity
Many new employees prefer and even expect a culturally diverse workplace. This is especially true of recent college graduates who have grown accustomed to learning about and valuing diversity. They desire to work among colleagues that offer diversity of thought and ideas, as well as of racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The organization that embraces cultural diversity is considered a much more desirable place to work.
Embracing cultural diversity also creates a welcoming atmosphere for new recruits. The problem is that a gap often exists between the organization’s mission statement about embracing diversity and a commitment to removing barriers to inclusion. If the reality is that the organization remains steeped in a culture of exclusionary practices, HEGs see through it quickly because they have learned to have their radars up for such things. As one of Trower and Gallagher interviewees said “This place is racist, sexist, and tremendously homophobic. I’ve stopped going into the office and I hardly talk to anyone. The rewards and benefits given to my white, married male junior faculty colleagues with families and me are very different. I don’t feel like I fit here at all.”
The Trower and Gallagher study results show that minority faculty members expressed less satisfaction with nearly all climate variables measured, including the issue of how well they fit into the organization in comparison with their white peers.
A diversity and inclusion initiative with goals, objectives, and milestones is needed to offer the comprehensive organizational culture change program for removing barriers to inclusion. Of course, the high impact initiative is based on good data, which includes identifying the organization’s stage of inclusion.2 Unfortunately, most organizations equate developing a diversity recruitment plan with a diversity and inclusion initiative. The difference is that the latter aims to change the organization’s culture rather than to increase diversity alone. It is assumed that an inclusion cannot be fully realized without changing exclusive practices across the organization, rather than in recruitment practices alone.
Offer visible leadership. The promotion of the best and brightest HEGs to leadership positions offers needed talent management resources and sends the message that the organization is serious about becoming inclusive. Women, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and other HEGs will have more access to mentors that better understand their perspectives. These individuals will also model excellence and help fellow leadership team members better understand HEG needs.
Develop a culturally competent recruitment team. The recruiters should have a set of best diversity recruitment practices to follow and an ability to translate each of them into their organization’s culture. The recruit team should, for example, identify and discuss tactics for developing a broad and deep pool of applicants. More importantly, the diversity recruits need to perceive the recruiters as focused on their needs and concerns. This requires a recruiter that is more than someone born with the “right” skin color, a liberal-minded view of diversity, or a desire to learn. It is imperative that recruiters have learned about cultural differences in things like time orientation, expectations about how they wanted to treated, and collegiality.
It goes almost without saying that exploring individual recruiter’s unconscious biases concerning different cultural groups is imperative. We use an exercise in our work called “How Colorblind Am I? It involves using a checklist of values and beliefs about different cultural groups to uncover personal biases. Participants love it because it is non-threatening way to increase awareness of cultural groups you have ease or difficulty in valuing.
Recruit actively. Recruitment is hands-on for the best practice organizations. It is done on the phone, on the airplane, in the hallways, at lunch, and at the cleaners. You can hardly go anywhere today without meeting HEG professionals. Each person you come into contact is a potential recruit for your organization. Keep in mind that you only have about 1-2 minutes to leave a positive lasting impression. This is not only due to the brevity of many of our new contacts, but it is also the upper limit for forming impressions of people who do not know.
Once you get past the greetings, find out more about the person. What they do and what their aspirations are? You will more likely find many people who can be recruited. Managers, supervisors, and CEOs should personally be involved in reaching out to prospective HEG candidates and invite them to apply. This is especially true of high potential HEG talent in the pool. It is surprising how many leaders avoid the vary conferences and other industry wide events where potential HEG candidates are more likely to be present. If the human resource department is the only contact during the recruitment phase, the organization is destined to lose high potential candidates. They are smart enough to seek out the movers and shakers of an organization in order to get a sense of where they should be spending their time actively job searching.
Create target-of-opportunity internships. These programs are popular because they work. The idea is to offer a summer internship or part time internship during the school year to high potential HEGs. It is no guarantee that the interns will be considered for hire or take an opportunity when your organization offers it, but it affords you opportunities to learn about how to recruit these candidates and what is needed to retain them at the same time.
Showcase Diversity Talent. Showcasing the contributions HEGs make to the organization is a sure fire way of increasing inclusion and attracting the best and brightest. HEG employees looking for mentors can find those who best fit their needs. This includes showcasing their contributions outside of work, such as church responsibilities, children’s sports, community boards, and other activities that show social, environmental, and other commitments.
Recruiting and retaining HEGs requires walking your talk and stretching you and your organization. Putting more emphasis on recruitment without consideration for the barriers to inclusion HEGs will inevitably experience is setting them and the initiative up for failure. Expecting them to figure out what the “game” is without adequate mentoring and human resource policy clarity will result in a revolving door, increased legal jeopardy, and lower productivity. It starts with a diversity and inclusion initiative led by a capable diversity professional with the authority to make things happen. But, the individual must have the support of a leadership that is conscious of its own responsibility and biases towards inclusion.
Billy Vaughn PhD CDP is a Chief Learning Officer for DTUI.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is based in part on an article by Cathy Trower and Anne Gallagher of Harvard University’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education. Their article can be found at http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2009/02/2009020401c.htm.
1. Historically excluded group (HEG) replaces the use of minority group in the Diversity Training University International (DTUI.com) diversity professional certification program. The goal is to avoid getting caught up in the controversy of using the term minority (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minority_group). The assumption is that any group that has been historically underrepresented in organizations is considered an HEG.
2. See, for example, the Organizational Inclusion Assessment Toolkit at http://www.dtui.com/toolkit.html.