“Diverse talent often ends up leaving because the organization they are being put into hasn’t changed,” says Jim Evans, senior vice president, human resources at Capital Group, one of the world’s leading asset management companies. “The intent behind hiring them may be noble and well intended, but if the organization isn’t prepared to accept them, it won’t work.”
By all accounts, companies need to find a better way soon. Nearly half of millennials say they want to work at a diverse, inclusive organization. At the same time, women and racial and ethnic minorities now make up a larger proportion of the US population. The inability to recruit and retain people from that talent pool not only severely restricts the talent available to the organization but also potentially alienates customers and can stymie innovation.
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It’s natural that leaders, whether they are in management or on the board, want immediate results. “Just go out and hire more diversity” is the mantra. However, a quick-fix approach plays into one of the biggest myths about diversity and inclusion—assuming the root cause of the issue is strictly related to D&I.
In one case involving a client for Korn Ferry, the firm was having trouble developing female executives despite hiring men and women at a 50/50 ratio out of college. Company executives assumed they had a work-life balance challenge that was disproportionately negatively affecting women. They believed the firm’s intense culture—where workweeks averaged at least 60 hours—was an anathema to female workers who wanted more of a work-life balance. They tried to cut back expected hours, but women still kept leaving at a higher rate than men.
It turns out that the firm’s original assumption that women needed more balance than men was wrong. Both the male and female employees that the firm attracted were drawn to the hard-charging intensity of the work. Yet men were staying, women were not. After rounds of exit interviews, focus groups, and data analysis, leaders finally unearthed the root cause: many managers didn’t have good people skills. It was this gap much more so than the work-life imbalance that was driving more women away.
According to Fayruz Kirtzman, a senior principal at Korn Ferry and a specialist in D&I strategies, this problem emerged because the firm historically promoted people based on technical skills, creating many first-time managers who were not properly trained. Both men and women were affected, but the gap “disproportionately affected women and professionals of racial and ethnic minorities because these populations already face more corporate headwinds to begin with, given the prevalence of conscious and unconscious biases underrepresented groups face,” Kirtzman says.
A lack of effective people managers isn’t a specific D&I problem. “That’s the piece that every organization struggles with, the frontline and middle and senior managers who are making the vast majority of day-to-day decisions—that sticky middle layer,” says Evans.