Make It Black

Less than 25% of Black employees feel included at work—what companies can be doing better

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Most American workers prefer remote and hybrid work environments in 2022, as they allow for more flexibility and freedom. However, for Black employees that preference may be less focused on the benefits of being able to work from home. According to a recent report from Bain, a global management consulting firm, less than 25% of Black employees feel included at the office. 

Although companies have ramped up diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for their employees, according to Bain's "Inclusion Helps Your Company's Black Employees Move Up, Not Out" article, Black workers are disproportionately confined to lower positions at their organizations.

Black workers make up 36% of front-line workers, the highest percentage of any racial group and significantly higher than white workers (21%). Furthermore, 21% of Black workers hold lower-wage front-line jobs that pay less than $30,000. Black people also are much less likely to hold mid-level and executive positions at their companies.

CNBC Make It spoke with the authors, Dria James, senior director of global DE&I, and Alex Noether, expert associate partner, to discuss the significance of inclusion, how to level the playing field and two ways to enable inclusion.

Inclusion and belonging go hand in hand

According to James, simply hiring people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives isn't enough. James and Noether referenced a 2019 Coqual report, which found that Black employees were 30% more likely to intend to leave their organizations than their white counterparts. This attrition could potentially be addressed with placing more emphasis on the third pillar of DE&I, inclusion.

"Yes, it's important to have diverse teams. But there's also the clash and the tension that comes from a more diverse team, as opposed to a homogeneous team.. it's harder to engage," James tells CNBC Make It. "It's very important when you have a diverse team to make sure that you don't just have diverse people in a room. You need people to feel psychologically safe, and know that they can actually bring their diverse perspectives and thought process to bear. So that's where inclusion becomes critically important."

Noether, uses a "school dance" analogy to help people better differentiate between diversity and inclusion.

"Diversity is inviting a lot of different people to the dance. You know, people have different backgrounds, they look different, etc. Inclusion is being asked to dance and getting out on the dance floor and having someone invite you to participate. That's what this is all about."

Workplace inclusion starts with leadership

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring people of color's inclusion needs are being met, Noether says. "We bring and have different experiences, which inform our identities and our views of the world and what we're looking for from both outside and inside work," he says. According to Bain's "The Fabric of Belonging" report, senior leaders often have "blind spots" when it comes to these issues due to lack of knowledge and diversity at the executive level.

"Diversity in leadership is critically important, and diversity of perspective broadly," Noether says. "The reality is we can still talk to people who are living the experiences, so people know what their experiences are like, but they have to be heard… they have to have an opportunity and a platform to share it."

James shares that diverse leadership also plays a role in attrition, saying "we've seen internally that a lot of folks are looking to the leadership and who's reflected there in order to make a decision about whether or not they even want to stay or aspire to be in leadership roles."

Enabling inclusion

"The Fabric of Belonging" report shares that two main enablers of inclusion play a huge role in people of diverse backgrounds feeling heard and supported. Behavioral enablers are made up of peer mindsets, leadership mindsets, and behaviors. Bain's examples of these include growth opportunity and feedback and open communication. 

"Behavioral enablers are based on individual personalities and who they are," Noether explains. "So how do people treat each other? How do they act? And how does that have an impact?"

On the other side, systemic enablers of inclusion are made up of structures, rituals, and norms within the organization. Bain's examples of these include "promotion opportunities, company values, and safe spaces with supervisors." James says that, in addition to these systems, "processes and structures" are equally as important and should be considered.

Both experts advise organizations to assess what they already have in place and ensure there are mechanisms to understand what their Black employees are feeling, like employee resource groups and formal programs/initiatives.

"Do we have clear career pathways? Do we have mentorship and sponsorship for our frontline employees? Do we have adequate upskilling, rescaling programs and professional development career tracks for those individuals?" are questions Noether says companies should be thinking about.

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