Having held high leadership positions and after managing and training hundreds of people, I have learned as much from organizations and individuals about leadership as they have from me. One invaluable lessoned I learned was the power of the organization over an employee’s decision to resign. Several years back, after passing a tenure milestone in an organization with which I worked, I ran into a colleague who started their tenure with the organization around the same time I did. We were at the stage in the organization when people do not voluntarily leave without having an amazing new opportunity. You can imagine my shock when after our morning greetings, she hit me with, “yeah, today is my last day so I’m glad I got to see you before I left”. When I asked her what great opportunity landed in her lap that she would give up what appeared to be a good job with a good salary and good benefits. She shrugged her shoulders, looked me dead in my eyes and said, “people don’t leave jobs…they leave management.”
The story she shared was one familiar to many Black women in leadership. The obvious and covert ways that you are undermined and maligned in the workplace, in addition to the run of the mill toxicity that is experienced by all, often pushes diverse talent to the decision to choose resignation as self-preservation. When she spoke of rampant disparity in her office, with the summary of, “you know how it goes…” I, as a fellow Black woman, knew exactly how it goes.
You, as the leader of your organization or company, have some control and responsibility to prevent self-preservation resignations by diverse talent. These solutions are developed from my own lived experiences, as well as those from my peers and clients.
Typical reasons people leave their jobs include not liking the boss, not seeing opportunities for growth, or being lured away by a better compensation package. While these factors are universal, for Black and people of Color employees, there are additional and compounding factors that compel us to leave.
For many, the decision to leave a “good” job is beyond the standard office politics and extends into the realm of self-care. Whereas leaving a job can be a great thing to do to advance a career, when you feel like you do not have a choice, the decision to leave can be devastating. The consequences for the individual and the organization are costly but also avoidable. For the employee, being treated unfairly affects mental and emotional health. For the employer, attrition and low morale negatively affects productivity and reputation. Here’s how bias (unconscious and conscious) shows up in the workplace for diverse talent:
• Disparity in Application of Policies: observable differences in disciplinary action between employees of different demographics, rules are bent for some and severely rigid for others, or there are no policies and procedures at all that leave all with uncertain and unsafe working conditions.
• Cronyism – “Good ol boy/girl”: leadership has inappropriate “inside track” friendships and after-hours interactions with subordinate staff (who share their demographics), managers afford their friends/cronies access and proximity to informal interim leadership roles and authority in decision making, mistakes of friends/cronies are downplayed or hidden while those by others are made to be examples, and conversely the successes of diverse talent are downplayed and those of their peers are celebrated. No standard tool or practice for recruitment, selection, and hiring of diverse talent – overreliance on the right “fit” in hiring decisions and circumventing metrics that are less subjective. Bias filters who appears to be “leadership material”, for Black and people of color employees that means having to be twice as good to get half the opportunities, and your advancement is questioned or attributed to ethnicity or gender, etc. Cronyism can also result in unequal distribution of workload that lightens the load for the favored leaving them with more bandwidth to take on high-profile special projects that enhances their opportunities for exposure and advancement.
• Maligning and Mischaracterization: the “Angry Black Woman” trope that mischaracterizes passion or engagement as over-emotional or aggressive, while others are allowed to weaponize their tears and emotional outbursts in the workplace that makes them the focus of sympathetic attention. Cultural Taxation – asking people of underrepresented demographics to be the representative for that demographic. Delegating additional assignments related to DEI, asking for their perspective and effort without additional compensation or resources.
• Lip Service to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI): Data suggests disparity in pay and advancement but there are no tools or strategy in place to address…just data, taglines, and talk. No financial or policy investment, no disincentives for not having diverse recruitment and retention strategies. No sense of urgency to address disparity, or under-resourced DEI initiative or project manager with insufficient resources and authority to implement change.
These actionable recommendations are designed for leaders and managers in the organization to address self-preservation resignations:
1. Establish formal policies and procedures for your organization or company and apply them equitably
2. Don’t “friend” subordinate staff afterhours or on social media, unless you are going to friend and socialize with them all – better yet, keep your personal and professional lives separate
3. Be mindful of conscious and unconscious favoritism – you do not want to have even the appearance of a clique at work, especially with your subordinates
4. Create a grievance or complaint resolution process, informally or formally. Complainant should have a policy to refer to, a neutral party to report to, an expectation of how the resolution process will work.
5. Adequately research and invest in a DEI Initiative for smaller organizations, and a DEI Office or Division for larger organizations.
Does much of this sound like some of the same barriers that all people have regardless of demographics? Maybe, and that is because equity is for everyone, not just Black people, women, LGBTQ+, Disabled, and people of Color. If you make and enforce policies, maintain appropriate relationships and opportunities for exposure, and make appropriate investments of resources to DEI everyone wins.