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It’s Black History Month, here are 5 proven ways employers can do better year-round

By Team Multiverse

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  1. 1. Develop a pipeline of new and existing Black talent
  2. 2. Provide the right support for Black employees — especially those early in their career
  3. 3. Prioritize mentorship and allyship for Black employees
  4. 4. Offer reskilling and upskilling opportunities
  5. 5. Create clear paths toward higher-paying roles
  6. More than one pathway towards success

We’ve been here before. Every February, our social media feeds are filled with content celebrating Black History Month. But what happens come March?

From the classroom to the break room, Civil War era stereotypes continue to keep a chokehold on progress with myths like the “Angry Black Woman” contributing to a workforce in which Black individuals are disproportionately underemployed(opens new window).

As others have put it(opens new window), Black people have been unjustly stereotyped since the day they stopped working for free. But after more than 400 years of discrimination, the Black community is defined by perseverance(opens new window).

An intentional shift in this narrative is long overdue.

At Multiverse, we’ve partnered with the leadership coalition at OneTen(opens new window) to support their mission to create one million new workplace opportunities for Black individuals over the next ten years.

By taking a skills-first approach to hiring and advancing talent, employers can break free of the “pipeline problem”(opens new window), stand up against centuries of systemic barriers, and take meaningful steps to ensure Black individuals access thriving careers.

In the spirit of less talk and more action, let’s take a closer look at five practical ways to elevate Black talent in the workplace — today and every day.

1. Develop a pipeline of new and existing Black talent

For too long, businesses have dismissed a lack of representation as a problem with the recruitment pipeline. The argument was, “How can we build a more representative workforce if there isn’t enough qualified talent in the market?”

In 2023, we know better.

A growing body of evidence reveals that there is plenty of available talent from historically underrepresented communities, but hiring biases, attrition at the entry level, and a lack of clear advancement opportunities continue to hinder organization-wide progress with DEI.

Here are some actionable steps to start changing the narrative:

  • Audit your leading sources of hire to investigate potential bias
  • Expand beyond traditional job boards and referrals
  • Remove degree requirements for entry-level positions
  • Ensure job descriptions use inclusive language
  • Diversify your hiring team to reduce hidden bias
  • Champion Black team members to attract more applicants from diverse backgrounds
  • Pinpoint the gaps in your early talent to leadership pipeline
  • Offer the same promotion and growth opportunities to Black team members
  • Give all team members the opportunity to upskill or reskill to progress into new roles

Centuries of inequality have created a large generational wealth gap. The cost of a four-year degree only reinforces the barrier between high-potential talent and the many businesses who stand to benefit from their skills.

Recent research from OneTen has found that as many as 76% of Black workers(opens new window) in the US currently do not hold a four-year degree. For the thousands of talented Black individuals who do have degrees, mobility and growth barriers remain a very real hurdle within their companies.

To combat systemic barriers and build a thriving pipeline of future talent, employers must explore new ways to make the employee experience more equitable, from application to promotion.

2. Provide the right support for Black employees — especially those early in their career

Imagine showing up on your first day at work and being greeted by the wrong name.

Though mistakes and microaggressions often stem from unconscious bias rather than ill will, experiences like these are unfortunately a reality of many and these moments can compound quickly, creating a negative experience for Black employees.

“When you're in a situation where you're isolated, you feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. Being constantly aware of your differences from other people and working to navigate those differences is exhausting,” writes career coach Linda R. Taliaferro in her LinkedIn article on Being the Only Black Person in the Room(opens new window).

Past research(opens new window) from Korn Ferry found that people of color were three times more likely to leave a job due to unfairness. In the age of quiet quitting(opens new window), first impressions have never mattered more.

Before bringing on early-career talent, make sure you have the following support systems in place to set them up for success:

  • Provide new hires with a diverse onboarding team rather than a single mentor
  • Keep the onboarding process technical to help new hires learn key tools and apply them to real day-to-day workflows
  • Promote a sense of community and belonging and encourage new hires to meet other team members outside of their immediate teams
  • As with every new hire, aim for a workload that feels challenging but not overwhelming
  • Offer additional learning and mobility opportunities to develop talent from within and increase diversity at the leadership level
  • Create a schedule for regular progress reviews in the first 90 days
  • Provide manager training across business related to mindful feedback and cultural competency

Equity doesn’t stop with a fair hiring process, it extends to your training systems and processes.

The right support and development opportunities can play a huge role in creating an equitable and inclusive environment that helps you retain and grow high-potential talent.

3. Prioritize mentorship and allyship for Black employees

According to McKinsey’s findings, there are only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. In order to be at parity with the population, that number would need to be 60 or more.

Adding to the burden of having to work twice as hard for half the opportunities, many employers put their DEI issues back on communities of color to fix.

“It amounts to asking a person to relive [their] trauma, time and time again,” explains Rosalind Chow, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business for the BBC(opens new window).

Whether the added workload is physical, emotional or mental in nature — and often, it’s all of the above — invisible labor is a big reason(opens new window) employees disengage from DEI related work.

Sponsorship, advocacy and allyship can help to reduce the burden and augment well-earned promotions and leadership positions — but only one-third(opens new window) of Black employees report having even one workplace advocate.

To elevate allyship in the workplace, consider these key actions:

  • Create a mentorship program partnering employees with senior leaders who can support them in developing skills for the future and act as sponsors for promotions or merit increases.
  • Map out measurable goals around DEI supported by clear KPIs to track your progress and a set timeline for reviewing your results. If asked, managers should be able to provide concrete examples of ways they’re supporting DEI.
  • Build systems of accountability to ensure allies and mentors remain active and engaged.
  • Establish a cadence of regular 1:1 meetings and be prepared to go deeper than asking employees questions about their general wellbeing.
  • Offer Leadership Accelerator Programs to ensure you are uncovering high performers, rewarding and recognizing marginalized talent, and upskilling talented individuals to prepare them for deserved promotions.
  • Question your assumptions to identify your strengths and challenges as an ally.

It’s important to point out that the responsibility to kickstart these initiatives always lies with the employer, not the employee.

Take responsibility for your diversity, equity and inclusion journey by creating a clear structure and framework that includes regular opportunities for mentors to gain insight into an employee’s background and experience through relevant work-related questions and development opportunities.

To measure your progress, outline clear accountability systems and milestones for tracking successful mentorships and their impact on your organization’s DEI efforts.

4. Offer reskilling and upskilling opportunities

While the majority of the population is employed in high-paying directive roles, the majority of Black workers are employed in low-paying, low-growth roles — putting Black individuals at disproportionate risk(opens new window) of unemployment due to automation.

Organizations like Black Girls CODE(opens new window), S&P Global(opens new window) and OneTen are doing excellent work to help aspiring Black professionals transition into new roles, but employers can also step up with an active plan for on-the-job reskilling and upskilling.

These programs can help employees develop new skills to meet the requirements of existing roles (upskilling) or even evolving roles that don’t exist yet within the business (reskilling).

To ensure your reskilling and upskilling programs are effective, aim to keep them:

  • Relevant — Designed around in-demand skill sets companies need for the future.
  • Engaging — Earns buy-in and maintains interest among employee participants.
  • Forward-thinking — Focused on moving companies and individuals toward their target state for months and years ahead.
  • High-valueDelivers mutual business value for employees and companies.

By arming Black employees with skills for the future, employers will not only reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce, they’ll also gain deeper innovation amidst an increasingly digital business environment.

“What the employer can do is understand the holistic opportunities and demands of the talent that are needed to really create an ecosystem where people are getting prepared, getting into employment and continuing to advance,” said OneTen’s CEO Maurice A. Jones in a recent episode of the Horizons podcast(opens new window).

Moving forward, real equity in the workplace will require employers to take tactical steps toward planning for the bigger picture.

5. Create clear paths toward higher-paying roles

The gap between entry-level and management opportunities for Black individuals has been called a variety of names — a broken rung in the corporate ladder, leaky pipeline, even a concrete ceiling(opens new window).

McKinsey & Co. found that while Black US employees make up a representative 12% of entry-level jobs(opens new window), a mere 7% are managers.

Whatever you call it, this lack of advancement isn’t going away unless we do something about it.

Once you’ve succeeded in bringing talented individuals into your workplace, the goal is to keep them there. Map out a clear strategy to :

  • Promote Black employees into management levels without requiring them to go back to school.
  • Create or accelerate paid on-the-job training programs with an explicit goal to progress employees forward into a higher-paying role.
  • Give employees access to programs that train in high-demand skills like software engineering, digital marketing, or data analytics, at no cost to the individual.

With the skills gap widening across all industries, now is the time to reimagine how you hire, train and promote high-potential talent.

Data from Opportunity@Work(opens new window) shows that millions of Black talent without four-year degrees already have skills for high-growth roles. Data on 130 million US job transitions(opens new window) over a decade show that tens of thousands of workers have made transitions from customer service or support roles to higher-paying, in-demand roles.

Change will happen either way. The only question for employers is, will you be in the game or on the sidelines?

More than one pathway towards success

It’s time to make Black equity more than a month long affair. By helping talented individuals gain the relevant skills for a well-paying career without the requirement of a four-year degree, you can play an active role in achieving greater inclusion now and in the future.

Through our partnership with OneTen, Multiverse apprenticeships are helping organizations open doors to underrepresented talent while staying a step ahead in a rapidly changing business environment.

Learn more about our partnership with OneTen or contact us today to find out how we can help.

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