How To Find and Retain Black Employees
Why Black Diversity Matters
We’ve all seen it before, advertising campaigns that turned into public relations nightmares. From layouts that are easily construed as intending to depict black skin transforming to white after using a national brand body wash, a monkey shirt that perhaps should have been modeled by someone who wasn’t black, and, a noose as a fashion accessory (I have no answers for that one). Instances like these are why Black diversity matters, and why organizations must master finding and retaining Black employees.
When these gaffes occur, Black people and their allies typically ask, “Weren’t there any Black people in the room?” Meaning, did the team that approved the questionable ad include any Black people? Or more broadly, does the leadership of the company include any Black people?
These are of course a valid questions. A recent survey of the members of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) revealed that only 6% of its members identified as African American/Black. Further, according to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics, people who identify as African American or Black account for only 8.1% of those working in advertising, public relations and related sectors.
The lack of representation of Black employees is even more concerning as it relates to executive level positions, in general.
According to Harvard Business Review, although Black people make up 13.4% of the US population, Black people account for only 8% of managers. The Wall Street Journal notes that we hold only 3% of senior executive level positions. And, among Fortune 500 companies, there are only three Black CEOs.
These numbers lend support to the general public’s suspicion that offensive advertising tends to be the product of a lack of diversity within the workplace.
Lack of diversity in the professional arena (and resultant missteps) certainly isn’t limited to advertising departments. However, as it relates to visibility, the advertising department’s work product tends to be the most visible to the general public, and serves as a window to company culture. So, when the advertising department stumbles, people rightfully ask, “where were the Black employees?”
But, it isn’t sufficient to simply have Black people in the room. Black people are not monolith. To reap the successes of having Black employees within an organization, organizations must not simply hire Black, they must hire qualified Black candidates who are tapped into the pulse of Black culture.
Further, to improve diversity rates within their organizations, organizations must be committed to recruiting, retaining, empowering and developing Black leaders.
Recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is a surefire way to attract quality Black talent. Current Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, is a graduate of Howard University, one of the more well known HBCUs, however, quality Black talent can be found at any of the 107 HBCUs in America.
A Gallup Poll that surveyed approximately 60,000 Black college graduates from a range of all colleges, ranked HBCU graduates as having the highest rate of financial, career, and emotional well-being of college graduates. Hiring from HBCUs not only provide organizations with quality talent, but also helps to solve future diversity hiring needs. Students who attend HBCUs tend to form strong networks amongst their fellow students, and, as employers know, employee referrals are amongst the best tools for finding quality candidates.
Recruiting from Black student unions and similar diversity focused student organizations at non-HBCUs is another great strategy to attract top talent. As is recruiting from institutions with predominantly Black student bodies.
Black Belonging Matters, will be announcing its partnership with a non-profit that administers programs that are aimed at improving recruiting of Black students. More information on that partnership will be available shortly.
A 2019 study noted that employees who were satisfied with their employment and intended to remain at their jobs, worked within organizations that had:
- Clear expectations for inclusive behavior
- A positive reputation around diversity and inclusion
- In-person bias awareness training
- Clear communication of how promotions work
- Moderated forums for conversations about race
- Accountability for harassment, regardless of an employee’s seniority or performance
- Senior leaders who are people of color.
According to the same study, Black employees were also more likely to remain at organizations that:
- Provided funding to attend external conferences for people of color
- Had a CEO/President was committed to diversity and inclusion
- And hired diverse suppliers
Organizations that wish to retain quality Black talent, would be well served to see how many of these indices are met by their organizations.
The 2019 study also found that one in five Black professionals feel that someone of their race/ethnicity would not be able to attain a top job within their organization. According to the study, Black people are also more likely to experience racial discrimination and microaggressions at work, all while having less access to senior leaders. 58% of Black employees reported experiencing racial prejudice at work. Unsurprisingly, according to the study, more than 1 in 3 Black employees intend to leave their organizations within 2 years.
To correct issues that doom diversity initiatives, companies must conduct frequent audits of their employees. Frequent audits will provide details as to company culture as it is, as opposed to how the company views itself.
Audits should be conducted by an outside organization, and employees must know that their feedback is truly anonymous. Even the best and most well intentioned HR department will not be able to overcome employee fear of reprisal (in the form of job loss or being passed over for promotions etc.). Employees who fear reprisal are likely to be less than candid, which makes any audit other than an independent anonymous audit almost useless.
Relatedly, companies should also provide employees with a clear, reprisal free means of communicating issues as they arise to senior leaders. This will allow for companies to correct issues as they arise, rather than lose quality employees due to unrealized issues, or worse, having said issue pervade the workplace until such time that a yearly audit uncovers it. Black Belonging Matters’ 411 service is geared at addressing the need for real time, reprisal free communication. If your company does not have such a service, we recommend that you contact us, or, another entity that is capable of addressing this need.
Developing employees begins even before the employee’s first day in the workplace. It includes all activities involved in recruiting, retaining, and empowering employees. It also includes investing in future talent by engaging in activities such as offering scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students, providing tuition reimbursement programs for employees, funding expenses related to attending external conferences for people of color, funding expenses related to leadership certifications and courses, and facilitating deliberate pairings of mentorship, reverse mentorship and sponsorship programs, to name a few.
As the headline of an that article I read recently noted, “There is no shortage of Black talent in corporate America.” Black Belonging Matters makes quality Black talent readily visible to organizations that are committed to equity in hiring and employment opportunities.
For workplaces, it is important to learn how to find and retain Black employees. To avoid costly PR gaffes, and homogeneous work environments, when hiring Black people, seek out those who are not only qualified, but, who are in tune with the pulse of Black culture. Historically Black Colleges and Universities provide quality talent. Retain, empower and develop employees. Black Belonging Matters can help. Please feel free to reach out to us.