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September 28, 2021


4 min read

5 ways to better retain and develop underrepresented talent


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Organizations everywhere understand diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to be a vital aspect of the modern workplace. But despite the positive strides towards change, underrepresented team members still face challenges at work that can affect everything from an organization’s overall productivity, to the health and wellbeing of individual employees.

Recruiting for diverse talent is a positive step in the right direction, but businesses must also address how to better develop and support these team members long after they’ve been hired and onboarded. Let’s discuss what actions you can take to develop and ultimately, retain underrepresented talent at your organization. 


Workplace challenges faced by underrepresented talent

There are many barriers which historically oppressed individuals are forced to overcome in the workplace, such as:

  • Educational gaps
    Systemic barriers to education, such as school zoning, mean that especially Black, Indigenous and people of color have a distinct lack of access to higher learning. Data shows that 35 percent of white individuals in the US hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to just 21 percent of Black individuals and 15 percent of both Indigenous and Latinx demographics.


  • Lack of representation in upper-level positions
    The majority of corporate leadership positions are still held by and given to white men. To date, just 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Another report found that 20 percent of Black individuals surveyed don’t believe a person of their race could reach the C-suite at their company.


  • Unconscious bias
    Despite heightened awareness around DEI in hiring and promotion practices, underrepresented employees may still be passed over for advancement opportunities due to unconscious bias.


  • Lack of access
    Many workplaces fail to prioritize accessibility as more than just a “nice to have” item. This can leave team members with physical or invisible disabilities feeling discluded and ultimately, have a major negative impact on their overall employee experience. 



How to retain and support underrepresented talent

Many organizations have strong DEI policies, strategies or statements in place, but do very little to ensure that the right people are reaping the benefits. The intention may be there, but it’s not always reinforced with action. 

So how do you help support your diverse employees and keep them on board? Here are several powerful actions you can take to supplement your existing efforts:


  • Gain an understanding of why underrepresented employees are leaving
    Before you can address retention issues, you have to have a strong understanding of why people are leaving your company in the first place. Many organizations leverage anonymous surveys or exit interviews for this exact purpose.

    These tools are especially useful for getting to the root of workplace issues that take place under the surface and may not be as apparent. Things like microaggressions or harmful bias are subtle, but may be prevalent in your work environment without your knowledge.


  • Prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion as a core brand value
    An effective workplace DEI strategy is all about authenticity. Simply making a statement about diversity isn’t enough to convince current or prospective employees of your commitment. Making promises without taking action even further deters marginalized employees from wanting to stay at your company long-term.

    Employers have to think critically about how diversity, equity and inclusion can be integrated into all aspects of company culture and as part of your overarching employer brand. What programs do you have in place that promote diversity? Is your current leadership team made up of diverse individuals? Are you transparent about your DEI goals and how you plan to achieve them?


  • Make continued education accessible
    Lack of access to education is a major contributor to workplace inequality. Although traditional tuition reimbursement programs seek to address this, many of these programs still require a large upfront payment from employees. This can be a big financial burden that deters people from taking advantage.

    Businesses offering some form of workforce education program should consider opting for a modern solution that follows a direct-billing model and removes the burden off of the employee. Doing so ensures that your people can take full advantage of the program, regardless of their financial circumstances.


  • Engage and educate your leadership team
    DEI is everyone’s responsibility, but the people in leadership are the ones who set the tone for how it’s integrated into workplace culture. Executives must be able to show up for underrepresented employees as mentors, managers and advocates.

    While diversity trainings and workshops are important, they’re not always enough to drive meaningful change. More and more organizations are pursuing other methods, such as aligning executive performance with DEI goals, as a way to ensure accountability from company leaders.


  • Develop diversity-specific mentorship and sponsorship programs
    The concept of a workplace mentorship and/or sponsorship is not a new one. However, many of these programs go underutilized and do little to actually foster meaningful relationships between colleagues.When developing or revisiting a mentoring or sponsorship program, consider how you can better engage underrepresented team members and encourage their participation. Recruit diverse leaders within your organization to serve as mentors or sponsors and provide them with the tools and resources they need to be true allies.


To maintain a thriving, diverse workforce, it’s critical to think beyond hiring and consider the entirety of the employee lifecycle. With these tips in mind, you can revisit your existing DEI strategy and identify opportunities to better support underrepresented employees.

Eager to take your DEI strategy to the next level? Download this free guide to learn how to promote workplace equality with workforce education.