Question: What can we do to help new employees of color get comfortable as quickly as possible?
Answer: The first day at a new job can be nerve-wracking. Employees are given what looks like three inches of paperwork to fill out, don’t know how to log in to their computers or check voice mail, and don’t know the practices and protocol necessary to be a success in a new work environment.
For people of color entering a workplace that’s lacking in diversity, these feelings of confusion and nervousness can be even more acute than they are for white employees.
If a company committed to attracting top diverse talent focuses exclusively on its recruiting strategy but bungles the employee orientation process, the results can be grave:
- Diverse candidates might feel as though a bait-and-switch tactic has been used on them. Getting them onboard and then expecting them to muddle through as best they can without a well-planned employee orientation process is not a strategy, it’s a slap in the face.
- New hires of color might spread the word about their unhappy orientation experience. When friends and family ask them how it’s going, as they certainly will, the new employee might spread negative feedback about the firm to the very people the firm hopes to persuade to become future employees.
- In a worst-case scenario, a new employee might renege on his or her commitment to work at the firm and accept another offer or go back to his or her former job.
Having an effective new-employee orientation process, sometimes called new-employee onboarding, is crucial, especially as it relates to helping diverse hires feel welcome from day one. To achieve that objective, employers should:
Determine the goals of the employee onboarding process. Decide what a successful outcome will look like, then design an employee orientation process to accomplish it.
Goals might include making sure that the new employee can identify with the new employer, making sure that the new employee feels valued, finding ways to reduce the anxiety that is so much a part of every new position and decreasing the new hire’s learning curve.
Introduce the new hire to an employee affinity group as soon as possible. Such groups can help eliminate the feeling of social isolation because people with similar backgrounds are found in these groups. If an organization lacks such groups, lead new employees to any other social networks the company offers, such as sports teams.
Consider assigning a mentor to each new hire on the first day. Mentoring programs make it plain that the firm is planning on a mutually agreeable long-term future together. A mentor can explain the corporate culture, make introductions to the right people, and explain protocol and programs. A mentor can keep tabs on the new hire’s progress and offer suggestions when the new hire experiences challenges. For best results, ensure that the new employee’s mentor is not a direct supervisor or a peer who is in direct competition with the new hire.
Ask the new hire what they want or feel they need to learn. Orientation is a great time to learn from diverse hires about their expectations, hopes and ambitions. Find out what they want to learn, who they want to build relationships with and whether they have any concerns. Repeat the questions a month or two later, after they have settled in. Showing genuine interest in the new hire’s concerns goes a long way toward establishing a sense of rapport, trust and team building.
Involve the new hire’s manager in the onboarding process. A significant part of the employee onboarding process should involve a meeting between the new hire and his or her manager to develop a 100-day progress plan. Each party’s expectations should be made clear: what the new hire is expected to be able to accomplish in the first few days and weeks, how success will be measured, what kind of support or learning the new hire will need and can expect to receive, and the like. Part of the plan could be a strategy where the manager identifies the areas in which the new hire can benefit from increasing knowledge, along with a way to equip him or her with the tools and training necessary to fill the gaps and achieve a considerable degree of success.
In January 2007, the Level Playing Field Institute conducted the Corporate Leavers Survey. The results revealed that more than 2 million professionals and managers leave their jobs every year because of discrimination. When asked what would have kept them onboard, 34.1 percent of people of color chose this option: “Better management that recognizes abilities.”
If a company is having a hard time retaining diverse employees and has no idea why, it’s imperative to ask employees of color where the problem is and what might be implemented to correct the issue or issues responsible for the exodus. Don’t wait until the exit interview or a diversity audit to do this.
A firm’s employee orientation process can make or break its diversity strategy. Wise companies recognize that recruiting diverse candidates is not enough. If companies want to retain and promote new employees, it’s critical to create a welcoming and supportive environment from day one.
Carmen Van Kerckhove is president of the diversity education firm New Demographic.