D&I and Employee Retention

The nation is going through a major shift.


   A shocking report published by Forbes estimates that turnover is costing U.S companies a whopping $160 Billion a year and in September of 2018, 3.6 million Americans quit their jobs voluntarily. However, in the multifamily industry employee turnover is much worse. The annual turnover rate in the multifamily industry stands at 33% which is higher than the national average of 22%. Combine that with Property Managers entering the retirement age, the industry is in for a major talent crunch. Why is this happening?  

Some HR experts say that managers are assumptive in what makes their employees happy, stating that they feel their employees want benefits like a 401/K, company-paid perks (car, phone, or gym membership), and room to grow within the organization. While this is true, surveys find that benefits and long-term perks may attract employees to your organization, but it doesn’t encourage them to stay at your organization. So what does?

Belonging generates engagement. Recruiting and staffing firm The Dreamer Group says “Shockingly, a recent global study of engagement by the ADP Research Institute spanning 19 countries found that only 16% of employees worldwide consider themselves to be fully engaged–which means that a whopping 84% are not currently working at full potential. In the U.S. specifically, employee engagement sits at 17%.” And while many have heard the business case for why your organization should have a DEI strategy, and employers are attempting to make the shift towards creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce particularly after the death of George Floyd, a consistent problem arises. Many don’t know where to start in the creation of a D&I strategy in addition to implementing an important component of D&I, a sense of belonging.

First, what is diversity?

“Diversity is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations.” What does this mean exactly? Diversity moves beyond “inviting people to the table dance”. It involves the understanding that there are four types of diversity. With this understanding, you know the strategy you need to create, how to execute the strategy, and whom you need to partner with for the continued execution of said strategy. In this blog, we are going to focus on internal and organizational diversity. 

How does an organization or an individual use internal and organizational diversity to fabricate a diverse and inclusive organization?

First, you must acknowledge that no member of any internal diversity strategy is a monolith. Meaning no two white women are the same, not all disabled persons have visible disabilities, and so on. Second, training yourself and leaders on topics such as bias and empathy can provide you with perspective. Lastly, hire a consulting firm to create a survey to recognize the gaps in your organization, then ask current members of your organization to anonymously provide feedback. These are vital steps to creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and to be effective leaders must be willing to be receptive to feedback. 

Remember this, Internal diversity feeds into and can fuel organizational diversity. You can have mostly male executives (Gender Identity, and Seniority) and lack Hispanic/Latino(a/x) Mid-Level Executives. These gaps can cause major disruption in your organization such as high turnover, low-profit margins, and potentially a toxic work environment. 

Truth is…

Many will not recognize how the lack of diversity and inclusion impacts their business, despite the evidence. Not to mention, D&I strategies take months if not years to show a return on investment. However, we can no longer afford to look at D&I from a perspective of profits, a lack of belonging is a mental health issue.

In a case study involving over 800 workplaces by Jonathan S. Leonard and David L. Levine, professors at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA, found “no consistent evidence that diversity itself increases turnover. In contrast, isolation from co-workers and from customers is often associated with higher turnover.”

There is a popular saying “Birds of a feather flock together.” This theory is based on similarity-attraction. Meaning, the more employees can connect and see themselves among leaders in the organization the more likely they are to stay. Having an organization that lacks diversity feels and is isolating. Imagine you are the only Asian Woman in your organization, you will probably feel pressured to conform to those around you and attempt to change who you are which is mentally and emotionally exhausting. This type of behavioral adaptation is called “code-switching.” It’s like wearing a metaphorical mask, disguising oneself for the sake of acceptance, or participating in organizational conformity. This can lead to what we know to be called “burnout” and emotional exhaustion. This is what they call “facades of conformity.”

As leaders, you have a choice. Create a diverse and inclusive workplace, not for the potential profit gains, but because you want your employees to stay, and your employees want to stay because they feel “seen.” They have a sense of belonging. This creates a better human experience within your organization. No one wants to feel isolated, burned out, or unvalued. Even when you are the only one in your organization “asked to dance”, that inclusive attempt without training, can feel performative, and inauthentic. 

To learn more about how to create a D&I strategy to increase employee retention register for this class taught by the author, L&B Manager of Digital Media, Liz Newkirk. Hosted by the Upper State Apartment Association.

About the author

Liz is the Co-Chair of the GCAA DEI Committee, and Chair of the Education Subcommittee on the Triangle Apartment Association DEI Taskforce. She has multiple certifications including DEI, Organizational Culture, and Ethical and Inclusive Leadership.

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