American businesses are facing a talent shortage.
Millions of workers are quitting their jobs amid what’s being called the Great Resignation, a wave of walkouts that has washed across tech, health care, retail and other industries as unhappy employees rethink their life purpose. While there are many reasons behind the rising discontent, there’s one important action that companies can take to stem the unemployment tide: Create a more fair, inclusive and equitable workplace.
We’ve spent decades studying the policies and practices around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and there’s no question that building a culture where everyone thrives takes a high level of commitment and consistency. Our research finds that managers are the key to making it happen. From supervisors on the factory floor to department middle managers to senior executives in the corner office, leaders who work diligently to increase a sense of belonging and respect, remove bias, follow fair hiring and retention practices, and establish safe spaces for employees of all races, ethnicities, genders and abilities will find that workers don’t want to leave. In fact, companies that earn a reputation for being a place where everyone is seen, heard and valued may not have to worry about the Great Resignation — whether that’s in the coming months or long after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.
In our most recent report, “Improving Workplace Culture Through Evidence-based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices,” we offer guidance on how firms can discover their shortcomings and fill in the gaps between what they say and actually do with DEI. Many of our recommendations focus on middle managers, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving senior leaders a pass; without absolute support and strategy from executives, middle managers cannot drive change processes in their organizations. But middle managers ultimately shape the daily experiences of their employees, so they are important architects of workplace culture.
Here are a few of our recommendations that managers can take to effect change:
Highlight the accomplishments of all team members. Ensure that employees from underrepresented groups are allowed to participate in team activities and share their work.
Assign meaningful work. Meaningful work helps employees feel their skills and expertise are respected.
Build strong partnerships. Help employees build their skills and networks by pairing them with peers, then make sure they have access to the resources they need.
Be transparent about hiring policies. Make sure team members understand how equity and fairness are factored into the process and outcome.
Encourage team members to speak up, even if they have dissenting opinions. Organizations with healthy dissent are more innovative.
Reinforce a no-tolerance policy for disrespectful behavior. This policy should go beyond behavior that’s legally actionable, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, to include bullying, spreading rumors and microaggressions.
Take ownership for communicating DEI initiatives. Explain how the initiatives are linked to business outcomes and the actions the team can take to support them.
Creating an inclusive culture is no longer a “nice to have.” It is a business imperative, especially in the era of the Great Resignation. We’ve seen that good management simply isn’t enough to build equitable workplaces because it doesn’t always address the specific needs of people of color, women and others who come from historically disadvantaged groups and haven’t always had a seat at the table. Black and Hispanic workers have long endured higher rates of unemployment than whites, and the pandemic has only emphasized the gap. If businesses want to close the gap and reap the well-documented rewards that come with having diverse teams, then they need to do the real work. The kind that’s sustained, challenging and even a little bit uncomfortable.
Our research shows that DEI practices should be actionable, measurable and evidence-based. They should be elevated both internally and externally. And they should be valued by everyone across the organization. When both managers and employees start to see DEI practices as core to their jobs — and just not on the periphery — their mindsets begin to shift around what it means to make workspaces inclusive for all.