Opinion: Hiring Diverse Talent is Easy; It's Keeping Them That's Hard (And Key)

When it comes to embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, there’s plenty of research to support that the more diverse an organization the greater the return on investment for its shareholders. Leaders at the most successful companies are very familiar with these studies and make it a point to strive for continued inclusion of diverse talent all the way up to the C-suite.

Of the two pieces of the D&I puzzle, diversity is the easier one to accomplish. Anyone can increase the hiring of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, GLBT and people with disabilities and quickly diversify their company. The difficulty, as most D&I practitioners will tell you, is in achieving inclusion so that all employees feel valued, see a career path for themselves, and choose to stay.

The companies with the best track records in D&I have figured out the magic formula which includes some combination of recruitment, development, sponsorship and mentorship strategies that lead to higher retention. But for leaders of other companies which are not as active in the D&I space, the results are less straight forward. These leaders may look at what successful companies are doing and, in an attempt to be proactive, appoint a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) thinking that he/she will be the silver bullet to increased representation of diverse talent at the top.

Not too long ago, a senior executive at a financial services company shared with me the amount of energy he and his team spend daily in trying to learn what’s important to his diverse employees. This same company, however, has had difficulties with the the attrition of diverse talent—likely due to the fact that they haven’t yet implemented a comprehensive approach to inclusion.

Appointing a CDO is always a good first step, but it seldom works in isolation. Attaining meaningful results requires a long-term commitment, which includes support from the CEO, appropriate funding of the right initiatives, and time.

When this kind of support is missing and the organization seems to be only paying lip service to D&I, high caliber diverse talent tends to jump ship at the first opportunity. What may be even worse is that they often share their negative experience with the company throughout their networks, making it increasingly harder for those companies to recruit new diverse talent to replace those they lost.

I recently ran into a friend who works in D&I and told me she was leaving her company for another that was “really” committed to D&I. She was excited to be joining the ranks of a business that “got it” and was willing to put its money where its mouth was. “It’s been very frustrating trying to get anything done here,” she said, voicing a sentiment all too common for many employees who work in the D& I space at organizations not fully engaged in making inclusion a priority.

Given that a third of the U.S. population is diverse, doing whatever it takes to develop and promote more diverse employees to executive positions is no longer optional. Rather, it should be a non-issue; one that is no longer discussed at conferences, just as we no longer discuss the fact that African Americans have the same rights as whites or that women have the right to vote. There should no longer be a need to explain the benefits of diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of an organization. So why isn’t this the case?

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of www.Latinosincollege.com and an award-winning author. Her new book: El Poder de la Mujer (Women Power)  will be released March, 2012 by Penguin.
Follow her on Twitter at marieladabbah.