By Teshia Levy-Grant

In recent years, many organizations have focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. But renewed national attention on social justice is paving the way for more and greater change in 2021.

Data from employment and recruiting site Glassdoor shows that DEI-related job openings across all industries have risen by 55 percent since June 2020. Hiring DEI leaders is the first step, but continuing the momentum requires more action and support from leadership. Given the changing landscape and national awareness, the time is now for companies to engage and think outside the box to respond to the growing focus on diverse talent.

Internally, your organization’s DEI philosophy should be connected to your values. At Webster Bank, we are dedicated to respecting the dignity of every individual and acting with responsible and ethical behavior. These values are at the core of who we are, and our DEI efforts flow directly from them. We know that the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our bankers enable them to help our customers, and the communities in which we live and work, to achieve their financial goals.

Externally, it’s important for companies to specifically assess processes and procedures to ensure truly diverse employee populations, from recruiting new employees to retaining existing ones.

Recruiting Diverse Talent

  • Certify your frontline. From the very first contact potential candidates have with your frontline recruiters, they should recognize your company’s commitment to DEI. With diversity certification from providers like Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies (AIRS), recruiters have the knowledge they need to build talent acquisition strategies and partnerships that can help locate diverse and under-represented candidates to fill open positions.
  • Expand external networks. To fill entry-level positions, look beyond the official career centers at colleges, and broaden your searches to include other groups. These are some of the ways that Webster is enhancing recruitment strategies:
    • Campus multicultural centers. These organizations include people with diverse backgrounds and interests, and they have built trusted relationships with students. The leaders will usually know of individuals who might be a good fit for the positions you want to fill.
    • The Federal TRIO Programs. Connecting with student services and reaching out to programs for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds as part of your recruiting efforts will allow you to include a larger population of low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and in some instances, students with disabilities.
    • Professional associations and college networks. Tap into organizations centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion recruiting, such as local alumni networks, and sororities and fraternities, as well as professional recruiters in the DEI space.
  • Invest in young talent programs. Internships are a good way to create a diverse talent pool for your organization. They provide college students or recent graduates with experience that will offer insights into your industry, and can help to identify students who might continue their careers at your company after they graduate.
  • Partner with your community. Engaging in community networks can also lead to stronger diverse pipelines. One untapped source in most communities is churches, which can serve as a great vehicle for engagement and information sharing. You can also connect with philanthropic teams to partner in their efforts and build off their networks within the communities you serve. Reach out to your current employees because many are engaged in community efforts and can serve as vehicles for information sharing, relationship building, and advertising.
  • Consider remote positions. With widespread use of virtual tools to maintain remote and productive workforces during the COVID-19 pandemic, think beyond your general geographical area to broaden your search and potentially fill openings with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Retaining a Diverse Employee Population

  • Align all areas with your DEI philosophy and goals. Make sure everyone, starting with senior leadership, is working toward integrating DEI into the way you do business, develop talent, engage employees, and get involved in the community.
  • Practice what you preach. It’s not enough to give the corporate line regarding what is right. Your organization must live it. At all levels, everyone should be aware of all the ways your company lives its DEI philosophy, whether it’s knowing that your CEO chairs the diversity committee or that your organization donates money to support marginalized communities and work that centers addressing issues of racial inequity.
  • Encourage mentorship. An effective approach for support and encouragement, mentoring can help guide employees along a positive and successful career path. So, make it easy for managers and leaders to mentor those coming up through the ranks with similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences.
  • Make employee resource groups more robust. Many organizations offer various groups (e.g., LBGTQIA+, veterans, multicultural, etc.) that allow employees to explore individuality in an environment of personal and professional growth, and mutual respect. However, ERG success isn’t defined by increasing the number of groups your organization offers. It’s achieved by increasing engagement with the groups you already have. Ensure that they have executive sponsors and empower them to be allies in addressing the larger DEI goals and strategies of the organization.
  • Expand educational events and activities. To encourage dialogue among employees, provide judgment-free opportunities. Book clubs and speaker series are just two ways you can educate employees regarding DEI issues and allow them to be heard while sharing their perspectives in safe spaces.
  • Assess results. It’s not enough to mine data from your DEI efforts. In order to send a signal to the entire organization that DEI efforts are indeed important, you must analyze the data and use it as the basis for change.

Looking Ahead

As we move into a new year, it’s important to realize that DEI efforts should not be performative, or a checkbox on a to-do list. Implicit bias is real. Empowered DEI officers will play a strong role in minimizing (and ultimately, eliminating) bias from organizational processes. That means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable—especially when it comes to ensuring that there is a diverse team of people at the table who are empowered and heard, and who feel valued and included in the decision-making processes.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to DEI. However, if you’re not explicit about your company’s stance, then you can be seen as complicit. Now is the time to think about how your organization approaches relationships and partnerships, and use these ideas to shape your own diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies.

Teshia Levy-Grant

Teshia Levy-Grant

Teshia Levy-Grant is senior vice president and diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, at Waterbury, Connnecticut-based Webster Bank. Levy-Grant leads Webster’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and oversees the bank’s efforts to promote a diverse workforce in an open, inclusive environment.