Hiring A Diverse Workforce Is Great, But How Will Companies Keep Them?

Diversity and Inclusion are projected to be top priority issues going into 2016. With so many companies focused on changing the demographics of their work place environments, it brings up another issue that has not been fully addressed yet: successful retainment of diverse talent.

Due to the recent bad press that many top tier companies have received about who mostly makes up their workforce, organizations are actively changing their recruitment practices to make their overall company culture appear to be more inclusive. Ideally an increase in the number of diverse employees will feed into the notion of a culturally diverse workplace, but increasing the number of diverse employees inhabiting the workplace simply cannot account for the very real need for internal cultural changes within these organizations.

An example of company culture deficits can be easily observed from Glassdoor's list of the "Top Companies In Culture And Values", from which, many of the tech companies currently in the news for having a lack of diversity practices were listed in first place for standing out "for high culture & values ratings and insightful reviews".

So what does company culture actually mean, and more importantly, who and what get to decide what makes its culture and values attractive to others? According to this list, it's the employees of the companies themselves who are pushing out the ratings of what is most desirable and coveted in the workplace. But if the decision makers are mostly homogenous in nature, how much weight should we really be giving these rating platforms when considering company culture?

For people of color specifically, the phrase "company culture" can be quite ambiguous and figuring out what elements are included in this concept can be tricky. Common adjectives that describe company culture can include "fun and enjoyable" or "a roll your sleeves up kind of environment" with employees painted as a "team of go getters" accompanied by key values like "belief in work-life balance". While all are desirable traits, for people of color there are often additional elements to consider that don't always have the opportunity to be addressed head on.

Knowing, for instance, knowing whether or not a potential employer has ever hired or worked with a Black or Hispanic employee before can be a large point of anxiety for job seekers mostly due to potential assumptions about their interests, who they are and the stereotypes they may have to manage once hired based on their ethnicity, especially if they are the "only one" of their background. Some of these anxieties have been captured and accurately demonstrated by Buzzfeed's popular "Being The Only Black Person In Your Office" and "10 Moments Black People In The Workplace Know Too Well" which prove that being in an environment that does not naturally favor your ethnic background can be an overwhelming task especially for those who end up serving as teacher and spokesperson for their entire culture.

Knowing how to fit in with work place norms that are likely not analogous to things in their personal worlds while being likeable and efficient employees can be difficult to manage for people of color. Other factors such as fragrant food choices for lunch or personal style preferences for vibrant colors can also add to the daily insecurities people of color may face when trying to understand and also fit into a company's work culture.

Despite these anxieties there is an ongoing push for people of color to be more willing to be open and their authentic selves more frequently as the Essence Magazine's Black Women at Work study notes "The key to navigating this tricky terrain is for Black women to do their best to remain their authentic selves so that their peers and coworkers feel increasingly comfortable around them.".

The problem with the dynamics identified is that they all speak to the employee's need to fit in to a predetermined work culture, which, in corporate America is mostly comprised of, and determined by White males. But with the demographics of the country changing at such a rapid pace, I believe it's time for the conversation to change and for organizations to take a more ownership of the issue by making work environments more comfortable and inclusive for all members of its workforce. Adding people to the office is simply not the final solution. These new hires will need a place that is safe, supportive and considerate of their needs, values and concerns.

The term "company culture" seems to follow the outdated practice of color-blindness as it is often separated from factors that speak to elements of ethnicity. There are of course, in many companies, implicit cues for what is expected and not expected for new-joiners, and occasionally those cues are, unintentionally, ethnically exclusionary. Unless a company has an extensively outlined diversity and inclusion policy, or job seekers know other people of color employed by that company, many minorities are searching with blind hope that if they are selected they will be able to join and also contribute to a welcoming and booming company culture that accepts them for who they are, as they are.

In a population that is rapidly changing and diversifying it will be interesting to see what the workplace environment will look like near future especially as ethnic lines blur and today's minorities become the majority. With companies at the front of the culture line like Facebook and Apple purposefully putting in diversity pipelines, one can not only hope that the trend catches on and trickles down to the masses, but also that ways of working with people of color are more understood and ultimately accepted as the new normal in the corporate world.