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Techniques to diagnose DEI culture problems

While a new employee starting on their first day marks the end of the Talent Acquisition (TA) process, it is only the beginning for that individual and the organization. Their value, impact, achievements, all stretch out in front of them, full of promise and potential.

You create a TA program that is an inclusive, engaging, equitable experience for candidates that promotes and drives diversity and excellence. However, how frustrating will it be if it results in employee paths that are short, painful, and without value for either the employee or the organization?

Without inclusive, equitable, empowering work environments, the DEI efforts of TA end up as little more than one side of a revolving door to high attrition.

You may be thinking; ‘our attrition rate is not a DEI problem or it’s not our fault. The industry is competitive, not everyone is able to thrive in our demanding environment, or it’s a great place to work but there just aren’t enough [demographic here] that are properly qualified to be successful in the job.’

And you may be right. But, what if you’re not?

DEI challenges are not always obvious. They don’t always come with high tension or negative press or complaints splattered throughout social media and review sites. Sometimes, the signs are more subtle and can easily be missed.

So, are you sending great employees straight out your door to your competitors due to lack of inclusion, equity, and belonging within your work environment?

Here are a few of the more subtle signs to look out for to diagnose if you have a DEI culture problem:

Lopsided attrition

Look at those who are leaving your organization – by department, role, location, or any other relevant aspect. Do you see any demographic patterns?

If those leaving your organization are disproportionately representative of specific demographics, you may have a DEI problem.

For example, if 30% of your hires for a department identify as female, but 60% of those who leave within 12 months identify as female, you have a gender-based attrition problem. In other words, something within the organization is causing more women to leave than their male counterparts.

Disappearing demographics

Look at those who are being promoted over time – by department, role, location, or any other relevant aspect. Do you see any demographic patterns?

If demographics are disproportionately disappearing through promotion, you may have an equity in career advancement problem. Career advancement inequities not only rob the organization of gaining full value and potential of their employees, it also increases attrition as left out employees seek opportunities elsewhere.

For example, if 40% of entry level hires identify as Black/African American, but only 20% of those promoted to first level management and 6% of those promoted to director or above identify as Black/African American, you have a race/ethnicity-based career advancement inequity. There are more opportunities for advancement for those who are not Black/African American than those who are.


Observe who the employees interact with when not performing professional tasks – such as when at lunch, grabbing coffee, or planning after hour events. Do you see any demographic patterns?

If employees are interacting with those who match their demographics over those that they work closely with, you may have an inclusive culture problem. When not ‘on’, people like to retreat to their comfort zone. They will choose to interact with those that make them feel safe, welcomed, and respected. Self-segregation is a sign that those safe and respectful environments are not among colleagues.

Celebrate us vs. them

Observe who employees nominate for awards and recognition – such as who they are mentoring and championing, and who they are calling out for a job well done. Do you see a demographic pattern?

If employees are consistently elevating and helping those who match their own demographics over any others, you may have an inclusive culture problem. When groups feel left out or slighted, they will sometimes band together to increase their voice, compensating for the lack of recognition from elsewhere. The more they feel unheard, the louder and more focused they will become to compensate, until it becomes a culture of us vs. them.

Bringing it all together

The journey for talent acquisition completes when a new employee starts. But, that journey is just the beginning for the employee and organization. Make sure the efforts that you’ve made in TA to be more inclusive, equitable, engaging, and diverse, do not go to waste once the employee starts. Watch for the subtle signs of potential DEI problems so you can resolve challenges before they create a journey that leads those fantastic hires right out the door.

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