Race and Economy

Diversity recruitment is booming, but retention remains a “huge issue”

Sabri Ben-Achour and Rose Conlon Jul 17, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Employers need to support and advance people of color as well as hire them, says Arthur Woods of Mathison. Getty Images
Race and Economy

Diversity recruitment is booming, but retention remains a “huge issue”

Sabri Ben-Achour and Rose Conlon Jul 17, 2020
Employers need to support and advance people of color as well as hire them, says Arthur Woods of Mathison. Getty Images
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Protests against racism and police brutality have led many companies to issue statements denouncing racism and pledge to donate to civil rights organizations. But they’re also reckoning with entrenched discrimination within their workforces, often at the urging of employees who want leaders to turn statements of solidarity into concrete action.

One measure of progress is the number of Black employees and other people of color within organizations, particularly in leadership roles. And companies that help other companies recruit underrepresented job seekers say business has been booming lately.

“Going into COVID-19, we were a little bit worried because we saw so many organizations institute hiring freezes, even perform layoffs,” said Arthur Woods, co-founder of the diversity recruiting platform Mathison, which connects job seekers to companies like Accenture, Casper and the Long-Term Stock Exchange.

“But in the last month alone, we have seen more demand for Mathison than the entire last year combined,” he told Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour.

Woods thinks corporate leaders are acknowledging the importance of building racially diverse workforces, especially in management.

But recruiting diverse talent is only the first step. Once they’re onboarded, retaining employees of color can be a significant blind spot for organizations.

“We see organizations that have instituted plans for diversity hiring actually failing to retain and advance those very job seekers,” Woods said.

New recruits who enter organizations with unwelcoming and discriminatory cultures often encounter microaggressions and face roadblocks to professional advancement.

“And those are all really good reasons to leave,” Woods said. “So we believe it’s just as important for organizations to be building out plans for diversity hiring as it is for them to be instituting programs: mentorship, executive sponsorship, career development, creating mechanisms for capturing feedback, really being able to create systems to ask people how they’re doing. Without those systems and structures in place, we almost see that there’s a hole at the bottom of organizations that isn’t going to be sustainable for their diversity goals.”


The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Sabri Ben-Achour: You help companies recruit diverse talent. There’s certainly a lot of pressure now for companies to look like they’re doing that. But what’s the business case for doing so?

Arthur Woods: There’s been now over a decade of research that’s proven companies that build a diverse workforce not only outperform other companies in the market, they retain their employees much longer and achieve a significantly better culture. So almost at every metric, there is a strong return on investment for building diversity in their workforce.

Ben-Achour: How’s business been for you guys?

Woods: It’s interesting. Going into COVID-19, we were a little bit worried because we saw so many organizations institute hiring freezes, even perform layoffs. But in the last month alone, we have seen more demand for Mathison than the entire last year combined. We’ve had over 400 organizations reach out to us in the last four weeks. And I think building representation in the workforce, ensuring that there’s especially greater representation among management, has been top of mind for almost every single corporate leader.

Ben-Achour: Once you hire a diverse workforce, that doesn’t mean your workforce is going to stay that way. What do you do?

Woods: That’s absolutely right. We see organizations that have instituted plans for diversity hiring actually failing to retain and advance those very job seekers. Among underrepresented populations, retention oftentimes is a huge issue — because individuals step into an organization, they don’t receive mentorship and support from other leaders, they don’t see leaders [like them] at the top of the organization. So they wonder, is there a place for me here? They might enter cultures that have significant bias or microaggressions. And those are all really good reasons to leave, if an individual is not feeling a sense of belonging.

So we believe it’s just as important for organizations to be building out plans for diversity hiring as it is for them to be instituting programs: mentorship, executive sponsorship, career development, creating mechanisms for capturing feedback, really being able to create systems to ask people how they’re doing. Without those systems and structures in place, we almost see that there’s a hole at the bottom of organizations that isn’t going to be sustainable for their diversity goals.

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