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Diversity initiatives start with thoughtful hiring practices. After hiring, capitalize on your success and retain those hires by promoting a climate of inclusion and belonging.

Multiple studies have already demonstrated the benefits of promoting diversity in the workplace. Diverse teams are more effective and better at conflict resolution, according to reports by McKinsey and Vanguard. Now, more and more teams are investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives.

Those efforts to implement diversity and equity initiatives should start early in the recruiting and hiring process, but those initiatives shouldn’t stop with a signed employment contract. A focus on DE&I in job postings and recruitment leads to more diverse applicant pools, which in turn leads to a more diverse group of hires.

The onboarding period is also crucial for employee retention, and research shows members of underrepresented groups face disproportionate barriers to experiencing a sense of belonging. Investment in DE&I hiring initiatives and onboarding goes to waste if incoming talent feels unwelcome and withdraws.

It’s important to start strong with inclusive practices in the recruitment and selection stages and build on that success with thoughtful efforts to encourage employee integration during and after onboarding.

Here are some research-backed strategies you can use to better attract and retain diverse teams across industries, from hiring, through to onboarding.


Recruitment and job postings

It’s important to introduce inclusive thinking early in the recruitment process. Recruiting efforts that emphasize teamwork and collaboration, or a dedication to offering professional development opportunities, can help attract candidates with diverse backgrounds.

Committing to initiatives such as flexibility (in both time and place of work) and work-family benefits are often vital to candidates from underrepresented groups. For example, candidates may have mid-day commitments that make it impossible to work during traditional business hours, and flexibility in work hours can allow them to contribute their valuable skills to the team. 

You should also ensure that flexible work policies are paired with on-the-job organizational support. Organizations can offer training to help leaders model positive work-life balance behaviors and decrease stigma, encouraging team members to take advantage of said flexibility.

Weaving inclusionary language and processes into your recruitment and selection workflow is a great way to attract a diverse group of candidates, which can translate into a more diverse set of new hires. Examine your wording carefully. Terms like “digital native” and “young professional” may not sound exclusionary, but they can make older applicants feel unwelcome. Choosing simple wording that focuses on skills rather than personal background can help encourage applicants from underrepresented groups to apply.

Giving employees a realistic job preview during the interview phase can also help them get up to speed faster post-hire. New hires who have a realistic sense of what they’ll face in their everyday work should find it easier to acclimatize. This helps your onboarding efforts down the line by reducing the amount of time managers and supervisors spend helping a new hire adjust to a role. 

Following through on expectations set during hiring also prevents the risk of a reality shock when new hires begin to notice gaps between what they were told and what things are actually like on-the-job. Rose-colored glasses may get a candidate to accept the position, but when the glasses come off, it’s important that they don’t feel disappointed or misled.

During the selection process

During the selection process, you should be evaluating whether a candidate will fit in well with your team and whether they have the skills necessary for the role. But at the same time, the candidate is working out whether your team will be a healthy, motivating, and sustainable environment for them.

Set yourself up for success by adopting structured interviews. In this format, each candidate is evaluated according to the same criteria and quantitative rubric. This helps reduce bias by minimizing the interviewer’s susceptibility to impression management, which some candidates may use to find common ground with interviewers and obscure deficits in their education or training. Structured interviews put all candidates on a level playing field, so everyone has a fair chance to demonstrate their skills.

Alongside structured interviews, implement standardized technical screens that are fair, unbiased, reliable, and highly job-relevant. Job simulations and work samples are highly effective methods of capturing candidates’ technical skills, giving you a better understanding of a potential hire’s real-world preparation. When teams use tools such as pre-hire assessments, candidates are able to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a standardized, realistic way. This helps avoid bias based on a candidate’s background by focusing the selection process on objectively-assessed, role-relevant skills and knowledge.

In this and all other parts of the hiring process, provide honest and timely feedback. Candidates deserve to know where they stand, and honest feedback promotes trust. If a prospective hire is met with fairness in the interview phase, that feeling stays with them and inspires confidence in leadership down the line.

Socializing new hires

Employees receive a lot of information in the first few days on the job. From administrative paperwork to position-specific training, each onboarding task is an opportunity to make new hires feel welcome. After all, you’re excited to have them on board – so let them see that!

Look over your informational and onboarding material for discriminatory or off-putting language. For example, gendered wording can make non-binary employees feel shut out. Outdated terms and stereotyping can sour the onboarding experience for anyone, but members of underrepresented groups may feel it most keenly. Build a stronger sense of belonging by using inclusive language in your onboarding materials and communication.

Subtle language cues can make all the difference in these situations. Focus on clear, descriptive wording. For example, listing a dress code policy as “professional appearance” can mean different things to different people. It can also open the door for discrimination or uncivil treatment when those definitions don’t align between a new hire and their supervisor or team. Providing clear examples and specifications in workplace policies and keeping the door open for communication helps eliminate ambiguity.

Provide easy and encouraged access to role models and peer mentors; make it easier for candidates to connect with coworkers across the organization. Peers are important sources of positive influence and belonging for newcomer adjustment. They also help new hires succeed by providing helpful information about the role and organization. Add in strong supervisor support to help build trust and prevent the “hangover effect,” where newcomers become less satisfied with their job as they face more of the realities and challenges of the role and organization.

Improving the onboarding experience can bear significant dividends. Employees who feel welcome are 50% less likely to leave, meaning teams experience less turnover and can focus on building strong ties and solving problems. This has benefits for the organization as a whole, lowering the cost of recruiting and onboarding more employees. Belonging also boosts job performance and can even influence whether employees recommend your company and speak positively about it to others.

Creating a climate for inclusion

A climate of inclusion can help foster collaboration and creativity and promote trust in diverse teams. Inclusivity in teams helps bridge gaps in team members’ experiences and backgrounds and facilitates the effective expression of ideas, translating individual creativity into team creativity.

But while inclusive climate statements look great on paper, some new hires find there’s not much overlap between those words and their day-to-day experiences. Ostracism is an especially insidious issue for underrepresented groups, who feel excluded at higher rates than their peers. This kind of exclusion negatively impacts employees’ sense of belonging and can lead to disengagement and withdrawal. A diversity-forward hiring campaign doesn’t make up for a work environment where you constantly feel left out.

Combat ostracism head-on by making socialization expectations clear from the start. New hires should know when group activities usually happen, who to talk to to get involved, and whether any of those activities are mandatory. Empower new hires to seek out social situations, and make it clear to the whole team that social inclusion is a core value. Leaders who encourage team members to fully express themselves and to value diversity make it easier for DE&I efforts to stick long-term.

Long-term success hinges on support

Long-term success hinges on long-term support. Implement and maintain a robust sponsorship program, linking new hires with established team members. These sponsors help mentor new hires, but they also act as cheerleaders, motivating, encouraging, and opening doors for them to gain skills and advance their careers.

Mentors and sponsors help buffer against chilly climates for members of underrepresented groups. Sponsors also actively encourage a newer employee’s career progression by connecting that employee to resources and championing growth opportunities. Formal mentoring programs are especially helpful for new employees from underrepresented groups, who often find it difficult to seek out resources, or might not know they’re available at all.

Sponsorship is also good for the sponsors themselves. Employees who become sponsors tend to develop relationships that expand their skill sets. They also get insight into the needs and concerns of junior employees, which can be indispensable knowledge in an organization whose managers are insulated from entry-level employees.

You can also foster a long-term sense of belonging by making space for employees to express their individual personalities. When employees feel comfortable talking to their team about their lives, for example, that cultivates feelings of acceptance and inclusion. You can achieve this by implementing respect-driven policies that encourage employees to bring all of themselves to work.

One area where positive encouragement could make a large difference is in celebrating language diversity. Non-native speakers of the team’s main language often face anxiety, fatigue, and other negative emotions as a result of needing to interface in a secondary language. This anxiety bleeds over into native speakers, who worry about not fully understanding coworkers and not being understood themselves.

Encouraging team members to embrace non-native accents, and building opportunities for native and non-native speaking team members to collaborate in overcoming language barriers, can help reduce anxiety and build positive relationships. Help increase visibility of language diversity in your organization. People who see positive non-native speaker representation in other parts of the organization, including in positions of power, tend to be more comfortable with language diversity on their own teams.

Give all talent a fair chance to shine

Put your best foot forward by cultivating belonging in the onboarding process. Start before the offer, by crafting inclusive recruitment messaging, implementing structured interviews, offering candidates a realistic job preview, and providing transparency and honest feedback. 

After hiring, make use of inclusive socialization practices; curb ostracism by defining social expectations and fostering team connections. Finally, practice long-term inclusion by implementing a mentoring and sponsorship program and encouraging employees to be themselves at work.

All candidates deserve a fair chance to shine, regardless of their background. When you prioritize fairness and inclusivity in your hiring practices and thoughtfully consider newcomer experiences in your DE&I initiatives, you help set up new employees, and your whole team, for success.