You look at the numbers in your workplace and are feeling pretty good about diversity. Your team emcompasses an amazing mix of unique individuals spanning races, ethnicities, genders, and religious backgrounds. Your stats? They’re solid. You’ve built a diverse workforce. Diversity is part of your business’s mission statement. So why does something feel off? Maybe it’s the culture. What Does a Diversity Commitment Really Look Like? A study by Clutch found that 6/10 employees identifying as part of a racial or ethnic minority believe a lack of diversity affects their ability to succeed. This is important feedback and worth exploring—specifically how employees are affected. When corporations and boards push to make diversity commitments, it’s usually supported by a 2017 McKinsey study proving a correlation between diversity and business success: Companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profits. Companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits. Companies with more ethnically and culturally diverse boards were 43% more likely to make above-average profits. Diversity is good for your business. And it’s even better for your employees. But simply saying you have a diverse culture doesn't cut it. Diversity Representation in the Upper Ranks “The number one diversity initiative employees of color want is the promotion of people of color into leadership roles,” says Nerissa Zhang, cofounder and CEO of The Bright App. “There are many diversity initiatives that can be helpful to employees of color in the workplace, but without representation at the leadership level, other initiatives will fall short and fail to solve the root causes of workplace bias and discrimination.” Her view is shared by Fatimah Pierce, Ph.D., founder and principal at Hickman Rose Strategies, who says that representation matters, especially in upper management. “When people of color are in leadership positions with decision-making authority and a seat/voice at the table, they can offer insight and advice on policies, promotions and other factors that affect employees of color,” says. Dr. Pierce. “This could positively impact employee success in two ways: more awareness of issues that impede advancement and more opportunities for mentoring and role modeling.” The Burdens of Education and Awareness While most employees are concerned about doing a good job, marginalized employees working in environments that lack diversity often carry the additional weight of delivering diversity education. “Over and above their responsibility to excel professionally, they feel forced to bear the burden of educating their colleagues on issues of race and equality,” says Dr. Ti’eshia Moore, a consultant and researcher who focuses on organizational learning and culture. She believes this leads to exhaustion. Another fatigue-inducing burden Dr. Moore describes relates to awareness. “Whether they are overtly educating others or not, marginalized people often involuntarily note the absence of others in the room who look like them,” she says. “This can lead to possible feelings of void and isolation, which impacts performance.” Unanswered Questions In non-diverse organizations, employees are often left to their own assumptions as to why their employers haven’t embraced diversity and what it means for them, says Moore. Is the company committed to diversity in statement AND action? Does the culture truly support a diverse workforce? Is there a real or perceived glass ceiling? Moore says the answers to these questions and perceptions about these conditions are critical to success. “Ultimately,” she says, “for employees of color, they feel their ability to grow and advance depends on conditions that have little to do with their job duties.” Tyler Butler, founder and CEO of 11Eleven Consulting, agrees, saying that “a lack of diversity can create an imbalanced mindset and outlook, and can lead to feelings of isolation and, in some cases, can leave disparate employee populations feeling threatened.” Mentorship Opportunities and Allies to Foster Diversity For companies looking to truly embrace and foster diversity, Butler believes there should be an abundance of mentors, peers, sponsors, allies, and support systems. “Gallup found that 45% of American workers have themselves experienced discrimination and/or harassment, and these feelings can naturally lead to a lack of motivation, satisfaction and consequently a lack of advancement,” she says. “Without a diverse support system in place, companies run the risk of alienating people of color and limiting their professional opportunities.” Zhang explains that “mentors from marginalized backgrounds can better understand the barriers and challenges employees of color face at work, and can therefore better implement solutions to remove those barriers.” The Path Forward Having the right people in place is one half. The other half must include the right strategies and policies. “More than anything, employees of color want initiatives that give them a fair shot,” Pierce says. And she says it’s harder for employees of color because, being behind the curve as they are, “it’s not enough to be a good employee—or even a great employee.” Her advice? Lean on your people. “Encouraging all employees to (a) refer people of color to the company and (b) nominate employees of color for leadership roles is a great place to start.” Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.