Before I became an Independent Financial Advisor, I spent nearly two decades in corporate America. As an African-American female I was highly attuned to the importance of diversity and supported efforts outside of my day-to-day job. But as I moved throughout the industry, I quickly realized that not all firms take diversity and inclusion seriously. This became all more evident with the recent comments from Well Fargo’s CEO stating that there isn’t Black talent. A lack of talent is not the issue. Rather than the question of whether firms are creating a welcoming environment for Black professionals and people of color.
I must admit, when transitioning roles I made an assumption that top firms had diversity and inclusion teams in place as well as that the leadership team made these efforts and found success in this area paramount. If I could have gone back in time, I would have asked these 10 questions. Knowing what I know now, I would not have joined one organization as the answer to every question below would have been no.
Having success in your career as a Black professional requires you to not only assess your role, compensation, responsibilities, etc. It is equally important to assess how prospective companies engage Black professionals and their track record of retention and advancement. I will state, supporting diversity and inclusion is not the sole responsibility of companies. As an African-Amerian woman, it is my responsibility to support these efforts through mentorship, advocacy and diligent work. However, when posing questions to prospective employers, it is important that you can speak to and evidence your work as well.
There are several questions to assess a firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, I have outlined 10 that I believe every HR Professional and Manager should be able to easily answer if the company wants to attract and retain Black professionals.
1. Do you have a formal diversity and inclusion team?
Companies that value diversity have formal teams and roles in place to support diversity and inclusion. Another way to assess the importance of diversity is who this team reports to. Does the Head of Diversity and Inclusion report to the Head of Human Resources or do they report directly to the Chief Executive Officer/President? What power does the Head of Diversity have? Do they manage their own budget? What are their business goals and what does success look like in their role?
2. How do employees support diversity and inclusion efforts? Are efforts top down or bottom up?
The key reason many firms engage in diversity and inclusion is to retain their top talent or attract top talent. If diversity and inclusion efforts are managed in isolation with little interaction or feedback from employees, are they able to address root causes or solve opportunities to create the optimal environment for diverse talent?
3. Do you have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or affinity groups? Which groups are represented and/or supported?
In addition to the existence of ERGs/affinity groups, do these groups have executive sponsorship? Are the groups supported from the bottom-up or from the top-down? Having a sense of belonging and a community of individuals supporting your culture and goals is tied to engagement. Having a company that supports these efforts with activities and events during work and outside of work demonstrates an interest in engaging their employees of color.
4. Can you share data on the organization’s diversity?
Diversity statistics share a company’s commitment to diversity. The numbers also demonstrate if progress is being made and if their efforts are performative or really inspiring change. The numbers should be provided by title, location, and management versus by individual contributors. Often, companies provide diversity data for the whole organization, not mentioning that many of their diverse employees are disproportionately in entry level or operational roles.
5. How diverse is the executive team?
The diversity of the leadership team demonstrates paths to advancement for people of color. Is the ceiling shattered or simply cracked? Asking additional questions about where people of color reside in the leadership team is equally important. Are they all siloed in the diversity and inclusion department, or are they leading revenue producing departments? Do they simply have titles or are they managing a budget? Representation of Black leadership is important, but equally important is the prominence and impact Black leaders have within the organization.
6. Is the leadership team committed to diversity?
Whether the leadership team is diverse or not, it is important to inquire if the firm is committed to diversity through its programming, mentorship and sponsorship. How diverse is the direct team, how many people of color does it formally support and advocate for? Ask for an example of the leadership’s commitment to diversity through their mentorship, sponsorship, programming, or business initiatives. Lastly, do they support diversity events with their attendance and active participation? All of these are key to assessing commitment versus optical support.
7. Are the company’s recruiting efforts supporting a diverse culture?
Recruiting efforts ensure there is a strong pipeline of talent and demonstrates how leaders envision the future of the organization. Is the firm recruiting from HBCUs or Black organizations at predominantly white institutions? Does the firm tout it recruits from only top-tier schools --schools which often have minimal representation of Black or latino students? Are their recruiting efforts outcomes-based or is representation an afterthought?
8. What diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence trainings do you offer? Are they mandatory?
Creating an environment of inclusion goes beyond simply hiring people of color. It is about creating an environment of belonging and allowing employees to bring their full selves to work.
Cultural competence training addresses the complexities of diversity and the required skills to create an inclusive work environment. Attendance should be mandatory to ensure all employees have awareness of their opportunities and acquire the leadership skills to lead and grow diverse teams.
9. Who holds my manager accountable to diversity and inclusion measures? Are compensation or other incentives aligned with this goal?
You only get what you measure. This is stated with respect to all outcomes and is equally important when measuring effectiveness in diversity and inclusion. Do leaders have diversity and inclusion as one of the key competencies for their role? Is it one of the competencies in which they are evaluated in determining their performance ratings, merit increases, and bonuses?
10. Does the company have any other diversity programs in place?
Outside of the formal diversity programs within the firm, are there other programs or partnerships with outside firms that support the diversity efforts? Does it partner with MLT (Management Leadership for Tomorrow), ELC (Executive Leadership Council) or SEO (Seizing Every Opportunity)? Does the company partner with community organizations that support the areas in which their employees reside or the resources they utilize to drive their business success? Success with diversity and inclusion is not an insular pursuit but partners with other organizations to learn, network and grow.