Notes on Diversity & Innovation (3)

It’s Not Only About Attracting Diverse Talent – It’s About Keeping It

Anita Zielina is director of innovation and leadership at Craig Newmark School of Journalism in New York and will now be a regular contributor to FemaleOneZero. In her new column she writes about how to keep diverse talents in order to drive change

In the debate around diverse leadership, it’s often the superficial numbers that get the most attention: how many people of color, women, or minorities rose through the ranks into a management or C-level role in a certain period of time? We all know the answer: the number of women and people of color in leadership roles is still staggeringly low across most industries.

A question that is far less openly discussed but equally – or even more – important: how many managers with a diverse background are left after a certain period? The unsavory truth is that the numbers are rather shocking.

In many industries, turnover at the senior, executive, and C-suite level for women is nearly four times that of their male peers. Even more so when we look at statistics covering women of color. Even when companies manage to promote diverse candidates, they don’t manage to keep them, and the vicious circle does not stop here. The past years have shown that when female or black CEOs who initially broke the glass ceiling either retire or are forcefully removed, chances are that their ranks are replenished primarily by white men. Cynically, one could imagine that some boards might think that danger was averted and the status quo has been re-established. Let’s just stick to what “worked” in the past.

Diverse talents and the glass-ceiling problem

The signal that sends to younger leaders in the talent pipeline is clear – if you are an outlier, don’t think about breaking that glass ceiling. Which of course reinforces the talent problem in the long run – no diverse candidates are being groomed for the highest ranks.

So what are some reasons for the higher turnover rates? Research gives fairly straightforward answers.

First, the “boys club” problem. As women move up the career ladder, they often feel isolated and have a hard time entering the (male and white) networks of power in their organizations. Diverse candidates see more bias and favoritism, and often do not feel fully and honestly supported in their new roles. And, of course, especially women or other primary caretakers often encounter prejudice regarding work/life issues or face inflexible work environments. When they are asked what could be done to tie them to the company, the answers are often quite similar: more transparent pay, clarity in career development and bonuses, flexible work environments, mentoring by senior executives, and informal and formal networks. To stay relevant and attract and retain diverse talent, organizations need to adjust their processes if they want to survive.

And we, as the public, have to ensure that we look at the stories behind the obvious numbers – and not be fooled by short-lasting PR moves that don’t really drive change.


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