How Can Corporations Promote Diverse Talent to Celebrate Black History Month All Year Long?

Diverse talent has been among the important themes of the wonderful content posted during February. While Black History Month serves to remind us of our rich and powerful history, we must remember to celebrate the value diverse talent brings us all year long. The data are clear: greater diversity – all kinds of diversity – leads to better business results. Companies with top quartile levels of ethnic and gender diversity financially outperform those with bottom quartile diversity by over 25%, according to McKinsey.

While the business case for diverse talent has never been stronger, progress continues to lag, and women of color are among the groups that have experienced the least gains. Women of color account for only 4% of c-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t shifted in the last several years.

If we are truly to change the face of leadership forever, we need to make some big shifts. Here are three places to start.

1. Executive Leadership Must Show the Way to Advance Diverse Talent

Any significant organizational change requires top leadership to take a stand. A company’s top leaders must take the initiative to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace. A visionary stretch objective must be set by a top-level executive. Yes, there is often the fear of the reaction by white males across the organization, which is why top leaders – white men in particular – must lend their voices to the shared goal of diversity. Another imperative: leadership must successfully communicate that the goal is not to promote and hire unworthy candidates, but rather ensure all talent has an opportunity to grow and flourish. It should be crystal clear that this is a business issue, not a social issue.

In order to set a visionary goal, you must first know where you’re starting from.

Collect Diverse Talent Data: Gather data from your systems to the extent that you can, and create a company-wide survey to get clarity on the varying perspectives within the organization. In one client company with a single digit starting point for women in leadership, many men responded to this survey that they felt everyone had the same shot at promotions. Women felt quite differently, as you might imagine, and the data certainly supports that perspective as well.

Once you know where you’re starting from, executive leadership and talent management can create a strategy based on your findings.

Establish Goals Tied to Compensation: Behavior change is hard. But progress will be made when those who reach new targets are compensated for their success. Once you have your visionary goal, break it down year by year and quarter by quarter, and hold leaders accountable to being part of the solution. Some organizations have observed that, unless rewards are associated with diversity targets, such diversity aspirations are theoretical and separate from “business goals.” As stated above, talent diversity improves business results, so compensation tied to diversity achievement is not antithetical to the needs of the business.

2. Coach Managers at All Levels About Their Role in Developing Diverse Talent

Building a diverse and inclusive culture doesn’t happen because there’s an HR department that focuses on it, nor does it come by executive decree alone. The greatest shift will come when managers are leading more inclusively.

How might some leadership behaviors negatively affect women and people of color disproportionately? For example, consider the situation where a woman makes a suggestion in a meeting, and it flies under the radar. A man makes the same suggestion five minutes later and everyone tells him it is a great idea. Great leaders are skilled listeners. The stronger leader will hear and acknowledge the suggestion the first time around.

It’s also been shown that male supervisors are more likely to have conversations about career and skill development with male subordinates than female employees. This could be a significant driver of why women report a 20-point drop in feeling that their supervisor is supportive of their career from early to mid-career, while men only experience a three-point drop, in research from Bain.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are great to help people of diverse backgrounds have a sense of community at work. But creating a sense of belonging when the work is getting done, and getting more women and minorities in positions of leadership requires the heavy lifting of managers having the right conversations day in and day out.

The two examples above are typical situations that a coach may pick up on. We all have biases. Once leaders are more aware of them, they can begin to see how they show up in the workplace. However, behavior change doesn’t happen solely because people are now aware of their biases. That’s why so many organizations fail to see much transformation despite investing in “diversity training.” It takes more than training to drive behavior change. That’s where coaching comes in.

Coaching goes beyond education and training. Coaches help people put those lessons into practice. With the help of a coach, it’s more likely a manager’s newfound awareness will shape new behaviors. Coaches listen to what the leader is experiencing in the specific context of their day-to-day situations. Coaching is hyper-personalized and hyper-relevant. That’s why coaching is so valuable in helping leaders build new practices. Unlike a workshop leader or instructor, a coach develops a closer relationship with the manager, and can then hold the leader more accountable. And by meeting regularly, the coach helps leaders sustain these new practices for developing all the talent on their teams.

3. Check Your Organizational Practices

A business is a living, breathing entity, with people that have inherent biases making decisions. So, it is important the systems we use to get people hired and promoted help to remove some of the bias.

Hiring: The same way that orchestras have moved to blind auditions to promote a fair selection process, bias can be minimized in a corporate hiring process. Leverage technology to eliminate bias in the applicant tracking system for positions typically held by white men, and omit the names of candidates, since several famous studies show that “white” sounding names get 50% more call-backs than “black” sounding names.

If your technology doesn’t allow for that, at a minimum, work to get gender and racial diversity in your slate of candidates to be interviewed and ask consistent questions across all interviews.

Promotions: People get promoted in many ways, but often, people move up when they have exposure to senior managers who see potential in them. They get promoted when they grow their skills through stretch assignments and are already exhibiting the skills and competencies required for the next role. And they get promoted through access to high potential programs that give them access to both of the above.

That’s why it’s so important that diverse talent is consciously thought of when selecting high potential rosters, so managers don’t select the person most like him that also happens to look like him. Opportunities to make high-profile presentations, take stretch assignments, and even move for international assignments should be part of regular career conversations for every employee, and certainly for every employee with a desire to move up. HR and talent management should help ensure that these opportunities are afforded to diverse talent. HR also needs to equip managers to have these conversations and engage diversity at every turn.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, the first step is to get more diverse talent into the pipeline at every level. We can’t simply throw up our hands in frustration about not having enough black female executives and perpetuate the myth that the talent does not exist. We must do the hard work to help women and minorities have equal access to the same levels of career support that many white and male colleagues have enjoyed for decades.

In today’s talent market we work very hard to find great people who fit our organizations. Support your leaders and provide a strategic approach to managing diverse talent so your future leaders don’t get stuck in your corporate wheel. There’s powerful talent already there when you’re properly tending to all populations to help them develop.