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Ask the White Guy: Can a Diversity-Management Question Kill Your Career?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Question:
Understanding that “DiversityInc does not divulge specific demographic data of any company….” do you offer information on retention/attrition rates? Were you able to calculate an average? Is it possible to receive this information as a percentage? Also, does trend data exist? For example what was the women’s retention rate of the top 10 companies, 85%, 95%????

Answer:
I think the actual percentage is not meaningful because retention rates vary by industry; for example, the retail and pharmaceutical industries have vastly different overall retention rates.

Trending the lists from year to year is also meaningless; the companies on the lists change every year as do the number of companies participating. In general, however, what I think is important to know is that some companies who participate in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity competition have achieved unbiased retention rates between white men and all other groups we measure (we collect race/age/gender retention information, but companies cannot collect data on orientation or disability).

Statistically even (or unbiased) retention is a remarkable achievement—most companies we measure have better retention of white men than any other group. Unbiased retention means the company is treating people equally enough to retain them equally. Our data does show a correlation between unbiased retention and high overall retention when comparing companies in the same industry. This makes sense; a company that develops a culture of treating people well will have an advantage as they make sure they’re treating everyone equally well (in the recipient’s judgment).

It’s very interesting to compare retention (by race, gender, age) for companies within the same industry. This is one of the things we do in our benchmarking consulting service and the correlations you can see between best practices and retention rates is extremely informative. Because we have more data on corporate best practices of diversity management than any other entity, we can draw more correlations—and have enough data to support conclusions on those correlations. This link will take you to a brochure on our benchmarking practice, which now includes access to BestPractices.DiversityInc.com, our all-management website that includes a vast webinar library and distance-learning courses on mentoring, succession planning, employee-resource groups and other subjects that will help your company manage toward equitable retention.

Managing people so they are equally retained logically means they are equally engaged and productive. This is a critical component in the “Business Case for Diversity,” as our country’s workforce will be 70 percent women and/or Black and Latino by 2016.

The increase in equitable retention correlates with the dramatic rise in key CEO engagement factors, percent of employees in employee-resource groups and structured mentoring in recent years (see the June issue of our magazine for more information; a link to the free online edition is here).

Please note: If you bring this up at your company, you may be hitting a raw nerve. I was recently invited to speak at an engineering company’s diversity-week event, the kind of “dog and pony show” that I see at companies that are stuck in the past. Hearing about a “diversity week” brings up an obvious question: If this is diversity week, what are the other 51 weeks? A hint to the question’s answer is on their own website—out of 18 people listed as “leadership” on their website, 89 percent are white, 11 percent are Black (12 white men, four white women, two Black women), and no apparent Black men, Latinos or Asians. The audience for “diversity week” was almost exactly the opposite of the leadership team: almost no white men. Read Do White Men Really Need Diversity Outreach?

I don’t know what this company’s retention rate is by race, gender and/or age. It’s not among the 587 companies that participate in the DiversityInc Top 50. However, I can give you an indication of what they’re thinking: At the last minute, I was paired with an attorney who was, in essence, anti-diversity. He’s the kind of guy you hire to justify the biased outcome in the flawed processes you have. I’d guess he was supposed to be a counterpoint to the best practices I discussed in my presentation. You can always find a lawyer to hide behind, but that’s not going to help you improve your human-capital performance, is it? So, before you bring retention and race/gender/age up at your company, look very closely at your company’s culture. I’m pretty sure bringing up the wrong question at this company would result in your being sent to the career gulag—or worse!

Depressing? Doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind that there are thousands of jobs in our career center, www.DiversityInc.com/careers.

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