Blog Post

3 Key Strategies to Build an Inclusive Talent Ecosystem

By Kayla Haskins
July 10, 2024

Despite mixed rhetoric across media channels, the importance of inclusivity in the workplace remains unquestionable. Why? Because inclusive practices aren’t just the right thing to do—they drive tangible business benefits.

Research consistently shows that companies with diverse leadership teams, including women and underrepresented talent, are significantly more likely to achieve above-average profitability. This inclusivity premium has only grown over time, boosting retention, enhancing workplace dynamics, and improving innovation.

Yet many organizations struggle to translate good intentions into meaningful action. The challenge lies not in recognizing the importance of inclusivity, but in implementing it effectively throughout the entire employee lifecycle—from initial sourcing to final offboarding—until it becomes ingrained in your organization’s DNA.

The years since 2020 have taught us that while performative inclusivity faces scrutiny, employees actively seek environments where inclusivity is genuinely lived and practiced. In fact, a Pew Research Center study found that a majority of employed US adults (56%) consider an increased focus on DEI at work to be a good thing.

So, how can you ensure your talent management strategy is truly inclusive? Here are three surprising strategies to help you foster genuine inclusion throughout every stage of the employee journey.

Ready to get started? Learn practical methods for infusing inclusion at every stage of the talent lifecycle, from recruitment and onboarding to performance management and succession planning, in our on-demand webinar.

1. Implement a buddy system as part of your onboarding

Onboarding can be a make-or-break experience for new employees, especially those from underrepresented groups. Too little support can leave them floundering, while too much oversight might stifle their ability to bring fresh perspectives – the very reason you hired them.

A personalized buddy system offers a solution that enhances inclusion from day one. This approach helps new hires navigate the nuances of your corporate culture, creating a sense of belonging and bridging culture gaps for employees from diverse backgrounds. It also creates a safe space for questions that new hires might be hesitant to ask managers, such as how special accommodations work, fostering psychological safety.

For example, think about your Gen Z colleagues, many of whom may have never worked in an office and are now learning the corporate acumen. Pairing new hires with buddies outside their direct management chain creates opportunities for open dialogue and support without fear of impacting performance evaluations.

The employee benefits are backed by research. A Microsoft study found that after their first week, new employees with buddies were 23% more satisfied with their overall onboarding experience compared to those without. This satisfaction gap widened to 36% after 90 days.

This also goes beyond employee satisfaction.  Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are almost three times as likely to feel prepared and supported in their role.

Remember, employee performance increases by more than 50% when employees feel a sense of belonging. An inclusive buddy system can be a powerful tool in fostering belonging from day one. That means you’re not just easing the transition for new hires; you’re laying the groundwork for a more inclusive, supportive, and high-performing workplace culture.

2. Conduct stay interviews to drive retention

Hiring diverse talent is crucial, and retaining that talent is equally important. Studies show that turnover rates can be higher among historically excluded talent groups. The cost of not retaining diverse talent is staggering: employee turnover due to racial inequity in the workplace has cost US organizations up to $172 billion over the past five years.

The issue? Retention can be challenging if you don’t have a clear picture of what’s really happening in your organization. A striking disconnect exists between leadership perception and employee reality: while 66% of leaders think they are aligned with employee expectations, only 44% of employees agree. This gap demands a more proactive and personalized approach to understanding employee experiences.

A striking disconnect exists between leadership perception and employee reality: while 66% of leaders think they are aligned with employees expectations, only 44% of employees agree. This gap demands a more proactive and personalized approach to understanding employee experiences.

Stay interviews offer a powerful solution to this challenge. These are proactive conversations with current employees to understand their experiences, concerns, and what keeps them engaged with the company. Unlike exit interviews, which happen too late, stay interviews allow you to identify and address issues before they become deal-breakers.

While anonymous surveys or listening sessions may elicit more candid feedback, stay interviews offer a unique opportunity to foster inclusivity while demonstrating a commitment not only to understanding but also to actually addressing the individual needs of diverse employees. By conducting these interviews, you’re not just gathering data; you’re actively building a culture of open communication and solution-oriented action, showing employees that their voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously.

To make stay interviews effective, especially for historically excluded talent, it’s important to ensure interviewers are trained in cultural competence, active listening, and how to create a safe space for honest dialogue. It’s also critical to follow up with concrete actions based on the feedback received; without action, stay interviews risk being perceived as mere lip service.

3. Be transparent in your growth paths and plans

Transparency in career progression is a powerful tool for fostering inclusivity and equity in the workplace. For many organizations, however, growth potential remains a challenge. The statistics paint a stark picture: only 87 women, and 73 women of color, are promoted to manager for every 100 men promoted to manager. Further, Black workers are more likely than their counterparts to report experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment in hiring, pay, or promotions due to their race or ethnicity, compared to their counterparts (figure 1).

Figure 1

One effective way to address these disparities is by embedding transparency across your performance and promotion processes. This approach not only provides a consistent framework for all managers to evaluate performance and promotions but also holds your team accountable for the decisions they make.

Implementing transparency in growth paths and plans starts with clearly defining and communicating promotion criteria. The promotion process should be standardized, using a structured, objective system for evaluating candidates and specific skill benchmarks, performance metrics, and project milestones. When all employees understand what’s required for advancement, ambiguity and perceived favoritism are reduced.

Data is critical to ensuring success in this process. Regularly tracking and analyzing promotion data across different demographic groups allows you to identify and address any disparities in promotion rates. Are certain demographics faring better in promotion processes than others? Use this data to inform and improve your practices.

The benefits of transparency extend beyond fairness. When employees believe promotions are managed effectively, they are more than twice as likely to give extra effort at work and plan a long-term future with their company. Research also shows that companies enhancing transparency and trust are twice as likely to achieve their desired business outcomes and 2.4 times more likely to achieve positive human outcomes.

So, while you can’t promise promotions, you can be transparent about how these decisions are made. This transparency will naturally encourage more equitable practices, as there are clear criteria and rules about who gets promoted and when.

Bonus Tip: Diversify Your Senior Leadership Network

To round out our discussion on inclusivity, let’s explore a critical factor that often goes overlooked, especially at the senior leadership level: the power of networks.

Seramount research, in partnership with Professor Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University, revealed 78% of corporate leaders tap their inner professional networks for vacant roles. Yet, 91% of White executives have no people of color in their professional inner network. These homogeneous networks can inadvertently perpetuate a lack of diversity in leadership roles.

Breaking this cycle is no easy feat. The obvious solution is to encourage your senior leaders to expand their networks, but this solution has its own challenges.  It’s often a slow, uncomfortable process that may take years to yield visible results, and many leaders find it awkward to intentionally diversify their professional circles.

Given these hurdles, organizations need both long-term strategies and short-term solutions. More immediate steps, such as implementing policies that require considering a slate of candidates for senior roles beyond existing leaders’ networks, and leveraging their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or external professional associations to expand the talent pool, can help bridge the gap while leaders work on expanding their networks organically. Discover more insights-based talent strategies in this research report.

While this strategy might be the most difficult tactic to achieve, it also has the most significant payoff. Beyond the benefits to the bottom line that we discussed in the introduction, diversity in senior roles has other, less tangible benefits. It sets the tone for how underrepresented talent is treated throughout the organization, and the varied experiences and viewpoints at the top can lead to more innovative problem-solving and decision-making. This fosters a culture where all employees can see themselves represented in leadership roles, ultimately contributing to a more dynamic, innovative, and successful organization.

Build Your Inclusive Talent Strategy with Seramount

The strategies we’ve discussed are just the beginning. Creating a truly inclusive talent management program isn’t achieved through isolated initiatives or checkbox exercises; it requires a holistic approach that permeates every aspect of your talent management strategy. Inclusivity should be so deeply ingrained in your culture that it becomes an invisible, yet integral part of how your organization operates.

As Seramount’s President Subha Barry often says, our goal is to make inclusivity “like salt in water”—inseparable and essential to your organization’s functioning.

Implementing these changes can be challenging, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to inclusivity. That’s where Seramount’s expertise comes in. With more than 40 years of experience guiding organizations through complex culture shifts, our team provides the data-backed insights and customized advising you need to navigate this transformation successfully.

Contact Seramount today to learn how we can help you build a more inclusive, effective talent strategy tailored to your organization’s unique needs and goals.

About the Author

Kayla Haskins
Kayla Haskins
Associate Director, Product Marketing