By Darren W Martin Jr. and Rubina F. Malik, Ph.D.
Diversity has been discussed repeatedly as a business strategy that helps to increase an organization’s bottom-line results, innovative growth and overall success. This is best done when when executives focus on increasing opportunity for personal and organizational achievement and advancement. The current talent pipeline is not the solution to diversity & inclusion in communication, technology and media professions. In fact, there is not one solution to approaching diversity and inclusion because it is something that should be embedded throughout all company units and processes. As executives begin to realize this, we will be able to increase talent retention and engagement at companies. Because the industries are slow to collectively recognize and support this need for professional achievement and advancement, attrition of people of color in the communication, technology and media industries remains a problem.
In Google’s 2018 inclusion report, it pointed to this fact. While Google had seen an increase in women employees slightly up .10%, its attrition for Black and Latinx individuals was so high in 2017 that it overshadowed their hiring gains. In the report Google admitted, “Black Googler attrition rates, while improving in recent years, have offset some of our hiring gains, which has led to smaller increases in representation than we would have seen otherwise. We’re working hard to better understand what drives higher attrition and taking focused measures to improve it.”
Google is not alone in this and the tech industry must be slightly applauded for releasing numbers, a feat still foreign to many marketing and communication agencies. One could argue that not prioritizing the release of workforce demographics in the marketing and communication industry is one of the reasons underrepresented groups, particularly Black and Brown individuals, leave after a short time.
However, attrition of underrepresented groups is a common problem among companies. And it is happening for a larger reason.
Attrition is partly tied to diverse groups not seeing room to climb the corporate ladder, the other part is due to a lack of leadership development programs to help employees advances within the company.
How Companies Can Start Reducing Attrition and Increasing Diverse Talent Engagement
A multitiered-approach to combating the attrition problem must take place and one of the largest components of employee engagement and retention is access to informal networks. This can be resolved if organizations focused on shifting the culture by creating developmental relationships. Developmental relationships (mentoring, coaching and sponsorship) are conspicuous for they serve as a source of leader development that spans organizational boundaries. These relationships – whether formal or informal – are strong, positive relationships that take an active role and interest in initiating actions to advance the development of another.
There is a difference between the three pillars of developmental relationships and they are all crucial to shifting the attrition and engagement problem companies are having with diverse talent. We will start our four-part series with the basic introduction of the three pillars of developmental relationships and then provide a more in-depth explanation of each part of the framework separately.
It must be understood that none of these pillars can work separately or together if those who are serving as mentors/coaches/sponsors are not open to understanding. They must also be able to empathize with their advisee and the unique challenges they face in the workplace. Otherwise, this approach will read as stale and inauthentic. It may be helpful to begin with a series of internal trainings for company leaders to ensure they can remain open and relate to life experiences that differ from their own.
A Framework for Developmental Relationships:
Companies that adopt the following structures see improvement in productivity, engagement and revenue across the board.
A mentor is a person who serves as a model for a certain aspect of your personal or professional life. The mentor provides real world, historical or present insights that help shape your understanding of subjects. They are the ones who individuals go to when things seem uneasy or unsure and they help guide lifepaths through great advice. They also lead by experience, modeling the words they speak.
Coaching is hands on. Career coaching provides insights and helps talent navigate the world, but they also show a world that is yet to be seen. They prepare the employee for a transition from coordinator to manager or director to VP. They teach proper protocol around executive habits and how to become a better team member and leader. The coach trains the talent to transform into their highest and best selves, focusing on habits that discipline the mind and body.
When someone sponsors an employee, it is different from the traditional mentoring model. Sponsorship is transactional and mutually beneficial. When someone sponsors, that individual is placing their reputation on the line and saying “this person is someone I know can do the job and I would like for you to consider them.” The sponsor understands that by helping someone get to a new level, that person would then reciprocate that help to the sponsor or someone else. Reciprocating that help to the sponsor could look like making the sponsor look good to the company, helping the sponsor push things through, or helping someone else move up the ladder. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The two understand the cycle of relationships and trust.
While mentorship and coaching can be used, sponsorship is one of the largest components to moving the meter on diversity at the executive-level in the media, marketing and tech industries.
In part two of our four-part series, we will focus on ways companies can use mentorship to build more inclusive environments and the effects of dual-mentorship in the new work age.