So much has been written about workplace diversity that it’s easy to forget the most-practical reason for being all in: the red-hot competition for talent. Just ask your HR department, and if you need further encouragement, check out BG’s Gender Diversity Research, “By The Numbers”.
U.S. employers currently have more than 6.9 million unfilled jobs, many requiring specialized skills. They need to fill these positions, along with several million others that will become available over the next 12 months as baby boomers continue to exit the labor force at a rate of some 10,000 a day. That makes diversity more than just a social good; it’s an economic necessity.
We need the talent: women, people of color, the differently abled, the foreign born, everyone. Companies need to recruit them, embrace them as part of the team, integrate them into their operations, encourage and mentor them, and provide them with advancement opportunities. Companies that follow this formula, research shows, generally perform better.
How is this achieved?
Frankly, those looking for a magic formula are looking for something that doesn’t exist. Winning the talent contest requires hard, methodical work. It’s all spelled out in a recent paper written by a team of my colleagues, headed up by Frances Brooks Taplett, who oversees BCG’s global diversity and Women@BCG efforts.
Their paper deals specifically with women and digital talent, but the lessons are applicable across the board, whether you’re looking for coders and software engineers, welders and electricians, pediatric nurses or truck drivers.
The first lesson is the need to focus. “Those that actively seek out the right pools of talent and launch targeted initiatives to bring in those … candidates will improve their company’s performance,” the team writes. The ellipsis (…) in this case is the word women, but it could have been any target group. If you want more women and minorities you need to seek them out and “create targeted marketing and ad campaigns” to let them know your organization is looking for people just like them.
“There is a strong network effect in place among millennial women in technology,” they observe. “When you find one, you find many, because they all follow each other on social media,” Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, CEO and publisher of MIT Technology Review, told the team. There are other avenues to such candidates as well, such as targeting women’s colleges and organizations and publications women read. In today’s labor market the strategy should be: All of the Above.
As I said, these lessons are 100% transferable. How many of you are familiar with the website thehundred-seven.org? How many of you are familiar with Fort Valley State University?
The 107 website is a link to America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Fort Valley State, in Georgia, has one of the HBCUs’ top ten STEM programs. If you’re looking for digital talent, this is one of the places where you’ll find it, along with (among others) North Carolina A&T State University, Florida A&M, Alabama A&M, Howard University, Jackson State, and Prairie View State University, which may be better known for its Marching Storm Band than for its Roy G. Perry College of Engineering, but if you’re serious about technical talent Prairie View is one of the places where you can find it.
Another transferable lesson is this: If you can’t find the talent you need, create it. Organizations are not helpless. Sitting around and saying “woe is me” about talent shortages doesn’t cut it. If there’s a problem, help fix it.
Companies that can’t find enough skilled women candidates, my colleagues write, “can expand the pool by offering training programs on the skills they need” or by supporting school and college STEM programs, potentially even sponsoring or funding such programs. And, as Ali Longwell reports on the SDxCentral web site, that’s exactly what a number of companies are doing. Her article is worth reading.
There’s much more as well. We’re urged to acknowledge that recruiting is the beginning of a process, not the end, because “all the recruiting initiatives in the world won’t help” if companies don’t keep the talent they recruit. We’re also urged to acknowledge that unconscious bias is a problem in many workplaces, not only in recruiting, but in most key decisions and promotion points. To combat this, companies should ensure that “metrics are used at each decision point and that decision-making panels are diverse themselves.”
Additional recommendations include: mentoring programs, showcasing women role models, offering flexible work arrangements, making sure there are no unnecessary obstacles to advancement. All these steps are both necessary and proper. And they apply to candidates across the board, not just women.
Workplace diversity is more than just a moral imperative; it’s an economic imperative.
Every leader of every company should be all in.
By Grant Freeland
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