By Nicki Gilmour, Founder of Evolved Employer

Welcome to our new website, is a website dedicated to helping business leaders and HR professionals better understand their greatest resource – their people. We tackle workplace topics around diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, and work/life fit issues with the aim of enabling leaders to build a better, more engaged workplace. We aim to empower employees in their quest to find the right company and to alert them to some of the progressive programs and policies in place in some of the best companies around. In my opinion, reducing everyday friction for your employees around work/life fit and increasing visible support for their career progression will lead to happier, healthier performances.

It’s the information age and employees want to know what you are doing around gender and minority equality, GLBT attitudes, green efforts and giving back (volunteering and philanthropy). Underscoring the importance of progressive workforce benefits, this year in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For survey, there is a “perkfinder” function which allows you to identify programs and policies around flex-work, same sex benefits, compressed work weeks, job sharing, and even gym membership.

Talent management means not only attracting and hiring the best individuals, but creating an environment where that talent can thrive and grow. What employees want and what they believe their company has planned for them may be two different futures, according to the Harvard Business Review article on “How to Keep Your Top Talent.” According to the report, 1 in 5 people think their aspirations are not in line with their company’s plan for them. And, the article states, by the end of 2009, 21% of employees could be described as highly disengaged – “those most critical of their coworkers, admittedly reducing their effort, and looking for new employment opportunities.” According to the HBR, only 8% of employees were highly disengaged in the first half of 2007. Numerous recent reports show that employee engagement is not improving. One reason for this is that today’s high performers want more from their employer – they want to work for a company that stands for the same values they do. Technology and the influx of Generation Y into the workforce are perhaps the main drivers in changing the way we work. An example of this is readily seen in companies that do not openly provide flex-work policies. These firms may risk losing high performers as flex work is evolving from an almost exclusively female perk designed around childcare needs to a work-force wide expected feature.

Keeping Good Performers in the Saddle

Leadership plays a big role as resources are needed to move the needle towards a more inclusive workplace.

Each firm has its own DNA of course, and a deep understanding of what the strategic and business outcomes should look like around parity is the first step. Operational commitment and metrics to plot progress is necessary – with managers leading from the front, incentivized to do so and supported by HR, not the other way around.

Firms should try their best to eliminate unconscious bias by designing non-subjective performance reviews and recruiting processes.

Laura Liswood, author of the widely acclaimed diversity book The Loudest Duck and Goldman Sachs senior advisor, draws parallels to market failure and lack of gender equity which can be applied to other groups in the workplace also.

In her recent Huffington Post article she said, “Leaders make things change, either for the better or worse by their action or inaction. Gender equity does not happen because it is wished to be so. Leaders must make it so.” She continues:

“Gender inequity is also about efficiency. Often managers are not rewarded for the ability to recruit, retain, and promote their diverse talent. Short-term awards of compensation are often focused on profits without the calculus of costs of retention, loss of female talent, and dissatisfied women who ‘off ramp’ from one employer and ‘on ramp’ to another with more opportunities.”

Lack of career progression or visible role models can be disheartening to even the most committed and talented people. We recently wrote about the cost of the closet and how feeling like you don’t fit in can cause people to leave firms [PDF].

Proclaimed meritocracies are sometimes institutionalized Darwin-like cultures that are far from level playing fields and the effects of employees not finding sponsors and advocates has been studied extensively in 2010. For example, as Catalyst and HBR have recently shown us, the benefits of mentoring have been significantly fewer for women than for men.

Advanced support around fixing the systems not the people (women, people of color, GLBT, disability) is what all firms should be thinking about in 2011. Why spend money hiring diverse talent to let them walk out the door because your diversity initiatives are thinly-veiled marketing efforts and not assimilated processes throughout all the firm?

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