Diversity, Wherefore Art Thou?
Guest: Beth Moore
There are a lot of unfortunate effects of the recession,” wrote economist Howard Wall in a recent article for Dunn & Bradsreet’s All Business, “One of them being that many of the gains made by black women over the last 20 years have been erased.”
Strong words, yes. According to Wall, African American workers have lost jobs at a rate 50 percent higher that white employees over the last two years, and the gap is even more profound when broken down by gender. Projecting the volume of jobs lost had recession not interrupted the trajectory of the economy, Wall determined that black women are now unemployed at a rate twice that of white women.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about diversity and inclusion in the workforce these days. As a newly elected Board Member to the California Diversity Council (CADC). My Board colleagues and I continuously strategize about how to increase corporate sponsorship and participation to help support the CADC. And while it’s never been easy to recruit time-pressed business leaders into volunteer service, the economy has made the task even more challenging.
Nonetheless, I don’t see the diversity outlook as being quite as bleak as Wall’s comments would have us believe. Certainly many of our CPGjobs clients run exceptionally strong diversity and inclusion programs— and have done so for years.
For many of you, diversity is really part of an overall strategy to cultivate and promote women and minorities and just as importantly, to help maintain greater understanding of and a closer relationship to your various target customer groups both here in the United States and in markets worldwide. Diversity, simply stated, is just good business in a global economy.
The fact remains that many organizations have maintained a well-balanced workforce over the last two years. Companies that invest in the future of their employees by actively enlisting them in color, gender, and affiliation training and advancement programs are much more likely to value that investment when decisions are made about who should stay and who should go during tough economic times.
In October the Anita Borg Institute published a very interesting study relating specifically to the effect of the recession on disengagement among women technical workers.
According to the study, the economic downturn’s effects on practices and programs important to women in the workforce (employee development, mentoring and flexible work options) are and will continue to have a deleterious effect on the retention of female talent. The study concludes, “An ongoing focus on practices that impact retention and advancement, such as establishing a culture of employee development and flexibility will give companies a competitive advantage in the recovery and position them for renewed recruitment.”
The Borg Institute study offers the following key strategies for retaining technical women— and I think these strategies apply to all (minority) workers just as strongly:
- Developing and sustaining a culture of employee development and mentoring.
- Promoting programs for leadership and technical growth.
- Establishing vehicles for peer-interaction, mentoring and collaboration.
- Offering increased opportunities for flexibility and work-family balance practices.
- Leveraging technology to create virtual workplaces and telecommuting options.
- Supporting managers that understand the value of diversity and flexible workforce arrangements.
- Developing and sustaining a culture of collaboration.
In fact, one might venture to say that as we pull out of this recession, companies that haven’t striven to diversify middle and top management may find in the recovery a perfect opportunity to do so. Make no mistake— job recovery is going to be a long slow haul; but that uphill climb should bode well for women and minority workers…AND provide the opportunity for organizations to renew their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.