By Julie Kampf
President and CEO, JBK Associates, Inc.

What keeps me up at night as a diversity champion is the thought of what senior leaders may be sleeping through. It’s great that nearly every company recruits diverse talent. At JBK Associates, diversity ranks among the first things clients talk about with our recruiting team when conducting an executive search. But then, too often, companies fall silent.

For many hires, trouble starts on day one. That’s when new employees begin evaluating whether the culture will be a good long-term fit, and diverse hires in particular face an unfamiliar culture. Yet while Aberdeen Group reports that 76 percent of firms now have a formal onboarding process, few onboarding programs offer alternate approaches for diverse employees.

Asking some questions of the onboarding process can help companies take necessary steps toward creating a competitive, diverse and inclusive environment. Do new hires learn about the company’s commitment to diversity as part of their orientation? Are there ways to make the company more family-friendly? Does onboarding include the chance to meet and learn from other diverse employees who have established themselves in the organization? Would peer mentoring make onboarding more effective for different groups?

Questions like these become even more important for senior-level hires who place critical importance on their first 90 days. And after all the work that goes into attracting star talent from diverse backgrounds, it’s worth the effort to retain and engage these employees.

Nearly all companies need to do a better job at engagement, so it’s good news that 2011 research from Mercer suggests renewed enthusiasm for Employee Resource Groups. Younger employees may show particular interest in ERGs, and that’s helpful for companies that will feel the loss as 10,000 baby boomers retire each day. Businesses that identify ways to make ERGs more effective—whether through better use of technology, better measurement, or more active engagement from leadership—may find as Sodexo has that ERG members serve as “mini-chief diversity officers.”

Leadership development also needs higher priority. Women make up more than half the professional workforce and minority populations are growing, yet the leadership statistics remain dim. And while companies searching for a senior leader invariably want to see a diverse slate, they rarely can point to a diverse internal candidate who is qualified for the role. With a disciplined commitment, companies can build a diverse leadership pipeline to compete in a global marketplace that demands innovation.

It’s time to put hard policies in place. Empower Chief Diversity Officers with the authority they need to shape the culture as well as have significant input into the talent management/acquisition process. Engage every employee from the first day on the job through the exit interview and even beyond. Understand where the CEO is willing to put a stake in the ground, and work with executives at every level of the organization to hold that ground.

Most importantly, for those of us who are diversity champions, vocalize the message that hiring is just the start. Sometimes the best way to rest easy is to help others wake up.

Julie Kampf is President and CEO of JBK Assoicates. Kampf has much experience in the field of consulting on recruitment and retainment in the workforce.