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The secret weapon to retaining diverse talent

How diversity conferences can increase employee engagement and professional development

Dec. 13, 2019 | By Jemia Williams

TEKsystems I&D team at NSN event

As we enter a new decade, more organizations are pouring energy and resources into diversity hiring. And while the desire to attract diverse talent has never been stronger (and rightfully so), employers need to be as mindful and intentional about diversity retention. Because to truly build a company culture diverse in backgrounds, talents and points of view that fuels performance and sparks innovation, it’s not enough to just get the talent through the door—they need to stay. Individuals need to be supported and feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. Diversity and inclusion. Both are necessary to foster a thriving organization.

There are a number of ways to begin: employee resource groups, affinity groups, inclusion and diversity workshops or programs, benefits, leaders fostering internal conversations. But there’s another strategy, and one not so widely talked about, that we have found has made a huge impact—leveraging diversity and cultural conferences.

By sending your employees to conferences where they identify with the demographic and culture, you reinforce the message that your organization is committed to their feeling of inclusion—feeling empowered, heard and supported. Plus, you provide an avenue for your employees to network and develop their career path.

Three steps to developing a diversity conference program to increase retention:

  1. Look for conferences that identify with your employee population.

    Research conferences that your employees would be interested in and benefit from—vet the conferences and understand their audiences. In the technology space, some examples include HUE, Code2040 and Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), among many others. At TEKsystems, we currently sponsor employees to attend National Sales Network (NSN), National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) and Prospanica. While there are several other conferences we’ve considered, we’ve chosen ones with workshops that would most resonate with our employees’ professional roles and ambitions, as well as from a cultural perspective. Make sure to offer conference opportunities that will be meaningful and intentional.

    TIP: Start small. When we began our program in 2014, we only sent a handful of leaders to NSN. Over time, we slowly began inviting more employees and adding additional conferences. How to identify which employees to invite? Look for people who show a commitment to inclusion and diversity, live your company values and demonstrate high performance. Also, ask for recommendations from your leaders and management teams. Five years later, we now send up to 20 employees per conference per year.

  2. Create events around the conference to fuel meaningful engagement.

    We’ve learned that networking discussions and the halo of activities around the conference are just as impactful as the conference itself. It’s not just about dropping your employees off at the registration desk—it’s being with them every step of the way.

    For TEKsystems, we’ve found success by planning team dinners the night before the conference begins in the host city. Plus, we invite local TEKsystems leaders within the conference’s demographic to network and socialize with our employees. This provides our employees direct access to leadership from whom they can culturally identify, feel a sense of community and explore career opportunities. The dinner ends with a casual panel discussion where our employees can ask leaders authentic questions that are targeted (e.g., there aren’t many people that look like me in leadership—how can I succeed? What did you do?)—because they can directly identify with these leaders on a cultural level. These dinners are also inclusive of any other leaders who’d like to join, regardless of how they identify.

  3. Continue the conversation after they return to the office.

    After the conference wraps and employees go home—it doesn’t end there. Continuing the conversation with them is key in fueling your inclusive culture so that everyone can benefit. During the networking dinners, conference sessions and keynotes, inspiring ideas and conversations take place—don’t let them stay at the conference!

    We task employees to communicate and present their experience and learnings with their teams and offices to share knowledge and inform others in the workplace. From lunch and learns to self-paced presentations, our employees do their best to bring the essence of the conference back to their teams, finding ways to add value and connect it to their day-to-day environments. We make sure to prep their managers and leaders to engage in postconference conversations with them and hold retrospectives, as well.

 TEKsystems Inclusion and diversity team at Prospanica 2019

TEKsystems employees at Prospancia 2019

 TEKsystems inclusion and diversity team at NAAAP 2019

TEKsystems employees at NAAAP 2019

The end result: Increased professional development, employee engagement and productivity

Providing employees the opportunity to attend diversity conferences strengthens company culture, empowers cultural support and understanding, increases inclusion—and therefore impacts retention. And the proof is in performance. By sending our own employees to attend NAAAP in 2017, we saw a 66% increase in performance, with 88% of those employees receiving promotions.

The benefits of sending employees to technical conferences are already understood—increasing professional growth, encouraging continuous learning, fostering team building, learning new innovations and the latest thinking. But layer on the opportunity to attend diversity conferences within your industry, and the advantages are multiplied.

Jemia Williams has been a part of the TEKsystems team since 2013. She has held various roles, but her current role on the Inclusion and diversity team is by far her favorite. Jemia focuses on building the TEKsystems brand across our local and national partners and continues to lead the strategy around attraction and retention of diverse talent.