NEW YORK—Feb. 21, 2022—In recent years, companies have raced to capture the benefits of a diverse workforce by hiring more employees from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Yet despite these advancements, too many Black workers remain stuck at the bottom of their organizations—36% of Black workers are currently in frontline positions, the highest percentage of any racial group. Even more alarming, 21% of Black workers are in lower-income frontline roles that pay less than $30,000 per year.
Bain & Company’s new research shows that one major barrier to Black advancement is attrition. According to the findings, creating feelings of inclusion—the “I” in DEI—is key to lowering attrition. Given only 20% to 25% of Black employees report feeling fully included at work today, there is a significant proportion of the Black workforce where improvements to inclusion can lead to better retention and advancement. Bain’s research revealed that Black women who feel excluded at work are twice as likely to quit their jobs than Black women who feel fully included, while Black men who feel excluded at work are four times more likely to quit than those who feel fully included.
“The Great Resignation has caused talent disruptions for companies across nearly every industry, but high attrition rates for Black employees are especially troubling for companies who are looking to move in the opposite direction and grow the diversity among their employee bases,” said Alex Noether, expert associate partner in Bain & Company’s DEI and Social Impact practices. “Improving inclusion is the right thing to do at a human level to improve Black employees’ experiences, and at the same time, it is also a clear way to support their retention and advancement. There is a big opportunity for companies to better serve their employees and address one of their biggest operational challenges.”
Bain’s survey on inclusive culture statistically unpacks the most effective enablers of inclusion within companies, with a focus on how intersectionality—combining lenses such as race, gender, geography, seniority and sexual orientation—reveals enablers with even greater impact for specific populations than for broader groups.
For instance, Bain’s study found that one of the biggest differences between Black women who feel included and those who do not is the establishment of rituals and norms around coaching and professional development conversations. These are particularly important to Black women because they often do not have access to leaders who resemble them. Since there are often not enough senior Black women present to organically form relationships and mentor junior employees, Black women benefit more from formal mechanisms or cultural expectations that encourage their leaders to give them the same amount of coaching that others receive.
The study also reported that Black men experience a meaningful shift in their sense of inclusion when working in companies where decision-making rights are clearly articulated and leadership teams demonstrate high levels of humility, meaning their leaders recognize that they may not know everything and can learn or improve from others. Black men are often unfairly stereotyped as aggressive or angry in the workplace, which can make it harder to safely share their dissenting opinions in the same ways as their white male counterparts. However, in a workplace where leaders are receptive to differing points of view—and it is clear who owns what decisions—the risk to Black men being labeled this way can be mitigated, allowing them to participate in their work more freely.
“In order to make workplaces truly inviting and inclusive for Black employees, companies must first start by taking the tough, but necessary step
s of looking closely at their organizational culture,” said Dria James, senior director and head of Americas Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Evolving the culture of a company to foster greater inclusion can be deceptively difficult, and there is no quick solution for this. That’s why we’ve developed this roadmap to help companies get started. Those who prioritize this now will produce immediate value, as well as improve employee retention, collaboration and success—for Black employees and across their entire organization.”
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