Hiring And Retaining A Diverse Workforce
November 4, 2021

Michelle Gadsden-Williams has held positions of global responsibility in the diversity and measurement arena for several large multinational corporations such as Credit Suisse, Novartis, Merck, Accenture and is currently the Managing Director of Inclusion and Diversity for North America. Love Malone is the founder and CEO of the Gradient Group which supports diversity hiring for the marketing, media, digital and entertainment industries through innovation and technology. In the following interview, they discuss how to hire and retain a diverse workforce.

Michelle, you've worked with many large multinational corporations. What's your take on how corporate America is responding to hiring and diversifying, given the events of 2020?

Michelle: A lot went on in the world around us that impacted the work of Chief Diversity Officers.

I would call it an inflection point. Many of us had conversations with our leaders, our CEOs and others to address issues of racism, discrimination and bias. We were looking for innovative ways to have meaningful conversations within our respective organizations. That led to a doubling down in terms of programming and philanthropic efforts. Everyone was looking for diverse candidates to fill opportunities. I witnessed many strategic responses that created channels for people to talk openly and candidly about anti-racism, discrimination and the marginalization of talent within an organization.

Only 6% of creatives are people of color. What would you say was missing in the structure and culture of the spaces you have worked in? What would you want companies to change before they even think about bringing in new hires?

Love: I always tell people, you want diversity, open the door, there's a good start. Just open the door. Also, promote the people that you have and invest more in the people you already have. Give them more money, show them how much you appreciate them and want them there, versus assuming they are just happy to be there.

In the marketing and advertising industry, we were happy to say how much we cared about Black Lives and donate funds to the NAACP. But no one's looking at how our marketing departments, our advertising agencies and the movies we watch are partly the reason this issue continues. You're talking about imagery, and we control that. We don't have enough variety of stories.

If your organization is not reflective of the customer base, of society, then you need to try again.
- Michelle Gadsden-Williams

Where should companies begin the process of diversifying their workforce from a strategic standpoint?

Michelle: Look at the current landscape of the organization, at the analytics. How many are women, how many are people of color, how are they represented? If your organization is not reflective of the customer base, of the society, then you need to try again. It starts there, but it doesn't always end there.

When it comes to sourcing these individuals, the typical ways of acquiring diverse talent are no longer going to work. You're going to yield the same results. You need to start looking at more unique, different and innovative places. Many companies are beginning to do that. Instead of going to predominantly white universities, they're now going to more HBCUs. They're partnering with organizations like the Society for Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, National Black MBA, or whatever the diverse population they're looking for. There are professional organizations out there also looking to partner with corporations to assist in this process.

It's not just about bringing the talent in the door. What you do with them while they're there is a whole other discussion. You can't leave people to their own devices to figure out how they're going to survive in these places and spaces. We also have to work on the culture in our workplaces.

You've mentioned needing to create an environment conducive to attracting employees of color. And there are two sides to that. First, what's the culture like inside the company? But also, what are you projecting outwardly? What would make someone want to come and work for you in the first place?

Michelle: What are you projecting to the external world? Look at your career page. Do you have a diversity statement, a vision statement, a mission statement? How are you showcasing diverse talent within your firm to students, professionals and experienced professionals - they are all looking for things like that. If they don't see any demonstrative evidence of diversity in action even on your web page, they're not even going to apply.

If you go to the career fairs and cultivate, foster, maintain and sustain relationships with societies and associations, it must continue over time. You can't have drive-by conversations; if you do, they won't take you seriously.

How do you personally go about connecting with diverse candidates?

Love: First, you have to lean into knowing that there is bias within you and your organization so you can do as much as you can to mitigate it. People have biases. I mean, 83% of people in human resources are white women, and they weren't even letting themselves in!

Second, understand your industry and how people are generally getting hired - it's usually through people they know. So go to places you can network and not always with people you may be comfortable with. I go to the black events, I go to the Spanish events, I go to the women's events, and recently I've been going to LGBTQ events because I'm realizing there's a lot I don't know. So I want to be more informed about what's going on there and be supportive.

First, you have to lean into knowing that there is bias within you and within your organization so you can do as much as you can to mitigate it.
-Love Malone

We also want to touch on metrics and the value of companies setting goals, targets and pledges. Also, how do they hold themselves accountable?

Michelle: An algorithm can be used to derive the aspirational target or goal you'd like to have. For example, I've worked for organizations that said, by 2025, we want to have 25% women in empty roles. To reach that, you look at your internal talent pool, historical data and trends and available talent in the marketplace. There should be enough data and insight you can glean to come up with an aspirational goal that makes sense.

In terms of accountability, many organizations are moving towards 'what gets measured gets done' and aligning it to performance management objectives. It impacts bonus targets, merit increases and possibly even employment. Those are the bold steps. People are not playing around anymore.

Love: We typically lose people in the middle. We don't sell in the middle. We agree with senior management and all the leaders around us that diversity is essential. But we haven't sold it to people. If you value retention, ensure that you're putting in a retention plan as much as you're doing a hiring plan. You need to keep the people you've invested in. You don't want to have a leaky bucket where you have as much talent as you bring in walking out the door.

Many diverse candidates don't fully understand their true worth. What advice would you give to ensure they negotiate the best packages?

Love: There are tools that tell you what the salary ranges are. Filter them based on where you live. So if you live in a city like LA or New York, you need to get paid more money because of living expenses alone. Knowledge is the first part of understanding your worth. Negotiation is the next huge piece.

It's important to coach people on what to look for and what to negotiate. Most people don't negotiate a severance package. I always tell people, think of your job as like going into a marriage, you don't need a prenup, but it's always nice. Instead of going with the typical two-week severance, think about how long it takes to get a job and negotiate a three to six month severance. Sometimes asking the question is better than waiting for someone to give that to you.



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