written by
Michele Heyward

Diversity at Day One: Best Onboarding Practices for Women of Color

WocInSTEM 6 min read

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace have proven to create positive impacts on organizations. An expanded 2017 study by McKinsey & Company confirmed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability. Organizations that are ethnically and culturally diverse gain a 33% chance of outperformance.

This is why companies are encouraged to develop policies that will cater to all genders and races, especially women of color. They are fully aware that creating diverse teams and increasing employee engagement will enable them to create smarter decisions for the business.

Yet creating a diverse and inclusive organization remains to be challenging for most companies. Women of color usually find themselves underserved, insecure, and unwelcomed. When building strong and diverse teams, organizations tend to focus on attracting and hiring talents, but they fail to deliver when it comes to retaining them.

One aspect that is often overlooked is the onboarding process. In fact, in a study involving 31 million employees from 1000 Fortune companies, only 12% of the respondents strongly agree that their companies perform well in onboarding new hires. As employee turnover is relatively high during the first 18 months of employment, it is important for companies to step up their game and create a more inclusive onboarding process with employee retention as the main goal. How can this be done?

Here, we talk about some of the best onboarding practices that can help retain women of color in the workplace.

Customize content for the onboarding process

Onboarding is your first chance to develop a healthy relationship with your employees. They are excited and expecting a lot of changes as they enter a new organization. Therefore, this is the best time to introduce the company and let the onboardees know what is expected of them.

Companies usually have their own tested ways of tailor-fitting their onboarding process. Personalization taps on emotional attachment and sparks interest, that’s why understanding strengths and setting goals early on is crucial to keep employees intact. But to elevate this practice, organizations should also start looking into the factors of race and gender when customizing the onboarding process for women of color.

Creating personalized content targeted to women in underrepresented minority groups can make a huge impact during onboarding. For instance, receiving a welcome message from a prominent woman leader in the company as opposed to a white male superior can boost self-worth and bridge the confidence gap. Customized learning resources like FAQs or modules will also help women of color navigate through their first days. Instead of generic and technical documents, digital materials like how-tos, company guides, and instructional videos can help answer most of their questions about organizational policies, company culture, and diversity and inclusion strategies.

The last thing that you’d want to put out there is that diversity and inclusion isn't a marketing stunt for your company. Laying the foundation of an inclusive experience and sending a strong message of diversity through tailored content will help women of color understand how the company values their presence and future roles in the company.

Build an inclusive mentorship program

Creating a sense of community is always helpful when building an inclusive workplace. Aside from having someone to guide new hires during their first days, it also helps foster a more stable social setting for all employees.

Usually, organizations pair up new hires with existing employees and follow buddy systems to help newbies have a head start. However, not all pairings are created equal. To make sure that new employees are properly introduced to the ins and outs of your operation, assigning senior leaders or subordinates with management potential will improve the onboarding buddy system.

As for women of color, mentorship programs led by the company will help them not only perform their roles but also express their identities in the workplace. Finding a mentor isn’t an easy task for women of color, especially when only few minority women rise to leadership positions. When companies take initiative in this part of the onboarding process, they help create safer spaces for women of color to gain feedback, develop their leadership skills, and advance professionally.

When building a mentor-mentee relationship, compatibility is key. Most importantly, helping women of color find mentors with skills that complement their own will help them perform better and eventually advance from their current roles. Mentorship should also be well-structured and monitored by the company. As much as the free flow of ideas and culture of feedback are encouraged, it is important to keep track of the results and study how mentors truly impact the careers of their mentees.

Utilize Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) play an essential role in driving impact on diversity and inclusion. They aid in recruitment by identifying target populations to tap on. They are valuable in creating policies for retaining employees from minority groups. They have unique perspectives and insights on policies that will help individuals from minority groups to advance professionally.

Aside from serving as a platform for women of color to voice out their opinions, ERGs also contribute to increasing representation in leadership. One great example is the Community NETwork at AT&T, a group that pursues inclusive opportunities for African-American employees. By partnering with the company’s Executive Advocate Program, they were able to participate in identifying and cultivating potential leaders. This resulted in pinpointing more than 30 individuals for VP positions.

This shows how vital it is to set aside time for onboardees to get to know the ERGs in the company. Understanding their history, vision, and the opportunities they create will empower women of color to participate and push for policies that will benefit them.

ERG leaders or representatives can actively join the onboarding process, where they can define how the company perceives diversity and inclusion. They can also talk about the policies being implemented and answer questions that women of color might not be comfortable to ask from other departments. This time also opens the opportunity to gain insightful feedback. By letting onboardees know that their opinions are valuable, they are more encouraged to cooperate and ideate progressive ways to create an inclusive workforce.

Cultivating diversity

The first 45 days of new hires are crucial to retaining them in the company. At this time, organizations should be well-prepared in providing relevant information, gaining feedback, and opening the conversation for career advancement. As the face of the American workforce continues to diversify, certain adjustments on the onboarding process will benefit the company as well as its employees.

By giving attention to the earliest phase of your employees’ life cycles, they are nurtured into more productive individuals. With regard to diversity and inclusion, retaining women of color in the workplace will improve leadership diversity and decision-making. By creating inclusive work environments early on, organizations can be certain that the foundation of their business is strong and primed for growth.

Interested in how you can create safe spaces for women of color in the workplace? Check out this primer about 5 Ways to Retain Women of Color in STEM Professionals. Available for download on our homepage.

Click here to Download Your FREE Best Onboarding Practices Guide that can help retain women of color in the workplace.

Women of Color in STEM Diversity and Inclusion Workplace Culture