How to retain diverse talent: Creating career growth opportunities for underrepresented employees

how to retain diverse talent

All organisations know that growth and development are an essential driver for long-term employee happiness and job satisfaction. When employees know that their organisation is committed to their future growth, they’re more likely to give their best each day. Critically, they’re more likely to stay with you for the long haul.

But when it comes to career development, the structural and systemic discrimination embedded in our society has meant that folks from marginalised groups don’t get the same opportunities as White people:

  • Women consistently make 16% less than men on average, with Black and Latina women worst affected.
  • 2021 data found that Black men without a university education earn about half the salary of White men.
  • A 2019 study found that workers with ADHD generally earn less and are less likely to get jobs than neurotypical people.

In this post, DEI consultant Daniela Herrera explains why marginalised employees experience a career progression gap, why this matters, and how your organisation can create better growth opportunities for your underrepresented workforce.

Understanding the career progression gap for marginalised employees

In an ideal world, we’d all get the same opportunities in the workplace. We’d all have the same chance at being hired, promoted, and making it to leadership level, no matter who we are or where we come from.

So why doesn’t that happen?

“Talent from historically excluded groups face barriers at every single step of their candidate and employee experience,” says Daniela. “[This includes everything] from not having access to the same networking and referral opportunities, to job descriptions written for those who already understand the jargon and industry language, and company pages and application forms accessible to only those who are neurotypical and body-abled.

“[It also includes] interview processes that require training or preparation, inequitable job offers, inequitable promotion recommendations, salary raise cycles, and layoff decisions — among many others.”

So what’s the impact? Daniela says it not only impacts your talent acquisition, but also long-term retention.

“Simply put, the systems and processes meant to elevate and nurture talent growth are inherently embedded with biases, stereotypes, and inequitable practices,” she says. “For underrepresented talent, unfortunately, looking for a new role might be the only way to advance in their careers and their financial security journey. Companies [will] eventually face a larger retention issue which also negatively impacts their employer brand, their ability to attract new talent and clients, the overall sense of belonging and company culture, and consequently, their business and revenue.”

4 ways to proactively nurture the career growth of underrepresented employees

1. Update your job design and role requirements

Educational achievement is a common yardstick by which organisations measure a candidate’s potential. But for underrepresented talent without the same access to opportunity, this often prevents them from getting through the door in the first place — and that’s a huge problem.

“Unfortunately, many companies still use education and previous job or company experience as the main drivers during an interview process,” Daniela says. “And sure, knowing more about someone’s education or career journey can be beneficial in some cases, but it’s also important to remember that these factors are often an indication of privilege, access, and proximity to power and not necessarily an indication of the candidate’s skills, experience, and expertise.”

Daniela’s tip: Focus on hiring talent based on transferable skills instead of fixed and outdated ideas of professionalism and skills.

2. Prioritise inclusive onboarding

Your employees’ first day sets them up for their future at your organisation. Failing to provide them with the right tools, training, and roadmap for their role means underrepresented talent may struggle to thrive long-term.

Creating an onboarding process that supports underrepresented talent from the get-go means helping new hires develop an understanding of their role, your organisation’s mission and values, and how they can participate to their fullest potential.

Try these tips:

  • Make sure all communication with a new hire before the first day is inclusive.
  • Include details like where to go, what to wear, what time to show up, or share a first-day schedule so your employee feels comfortable.
  • Where possible, try to avoid speaking in team jargon, acronyms or specific terminology without providing a context for what they mean. Team in-jokes and specific references also apply here.
  • Create regular check-ins to help new hires settle in, and ask if there’s any extra support they need.
  • Make sure that onboarding events, including Friday drinks or evenings out, feel inclusive to everyone attending.

Daniela’s tip: Build better, more comprehensive, and more intentional onboarding processes that not only elevate talent but also nurture and lift them up as they grow and learn more about your organisation and industry.

Actually inclusive onboarding is a part of inclusive employer branding. And a proper employer branding is crucial for retaining diverse talent.

3. Audit and redesign performance reviews

The performance review process is notoriously biased against employees from marginalised groups. Not only is unconscious bias often alive and well in how organisations evaluate performance for different employee populations, but performance review cycles themselves can contribute to discrimination when they’re not regular or consistent enough.

“Research has shown, for example, that during performance review cycles, women — especially women of colour — receive feedback based on their attitude and personality instead of their work, skills, goals, and accomplishments,” Daniela explains. “We also know that [feedback for] Black, Latine, and employees over 40 tends to be less actionable than the feedback their white colleagues receive.”

4. Implement talent processes that proactively support underrepresented employees

Nurturing marginalised talent requires you to look at your entire employee lifecycle to identify where and how your processes could be improved to support career growth and professional development.

Organisations can implement a range of tactics to help underrepresented talent thrive across internal processes, including:

  • Mentoring and reverse mentoring: Mentorship is a proven way of driving career growth, because it builds supportive networks and encourages knowledge and experience sharing across your organisation. In a traditional mentoring setup, senior employees share their experience and knowledge with younger employees — while in reverse mentoring, junior employees lead the way.
  • Enabling cross-functional and cross-departmental learning: Sometimes, employees don’t have themselves pinned for leadership. And that’s totally okay — but it’s important to support lateral career development too. For underrepresented employees, cross-functional learning can help expand skills and competencies in new topics or areas of expertise.
  • Prioritise upskilling and reskilling: Particularly for older employees, upskilling and reskilling represents a way to make sure skills stay sharp while prioritising continuous growth and career development.


Develop Diverse is an inclusive communication tool that helps organisations scale their diversity and inclusion efforts across their recruitment process and beyond. Find out more by booking a demo with our team.

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