Culture3 min read

How to make your onboarding more inclusive for your Black colleagues

Onboarding is a word straight out of the HR glossary. But welcoming a new hire isn’t only the responsibility of the HR department or the person’s line manager. To a degree, onboarding is everyone’s responsibility. Every action we take — or don’t take — contributes to how included or excluded our new colleague feels.  

Representation in business is still poor — particularly at leadership levels, with a third of FTSE 100 companies unlikely to achieve their target of appointing at least one ethnic minority director by 2021. Companies are being pressed to re-evaluate their need for racial and ethnic diversity and are committing to change. We’re now seeing business giants like Microsoft and EY pledging to increase their number of Black employees.

But once you’ve put the effort into sourcing diverse applicants, debiasing your hiring process and hiring the best candidate, what kind of welcome will Black employees get when they arrive? Looking at negative experiences of Black employees at companies like Facebook and the racist thoughts anonymously shared by their peers, it’s clear that pushing for diversity and hoping that inclusion will follow just doesn’t work. 

Arthur Woods, co-founder of diversity recruitment company, Mathison, summed up the issue in an interview with Marketplace:

We see organizations that have instituted plans for diversity hiring actually failing to retain and advance those very job seekers... [People] might enter cultures that have significant bias or microaggressions. And those are all really good reasons to leave. - Arthur Woods, co-founder of Mathison

We know that onboarding has a major impact on retention. A Korn/Ferry survey found that people of color were three times more likely to say they left a job because of unfairness than heterosexual white men. Examples of unfairness included being humiliated in public, being passed over for a promotion and facing unwelcome questions about their appearance.

Businesses need to shape a culture that’s inclusive of the Black folks they’re now trying to attract. That starts with the crucial first day, first week and first month on the job. 

🙅🏿‍♀️ Not a diversity hire

The phrase “diversity hire” is usually used to refer to an employee from an underrepresented group, especially BIPOC. More often than not, it’s a pejorative term. The implication is that the main reason the person was hired was that they ticked the diversity box, not because they deserved the job on merit alone. 

Individuals might feel like and/or be treated like a diversity hire by others through overt language, like being called a diversity hire, and through things like:

😕 People implying that you were hired because you are Black/a woman/LGBT+/POC/have a disability, or that it helped your application

😕 Being asked to be in publicity photos or any other kind of optical representation of the company’s diversity

😕 Being given tasks that fit a stereotyped view of your racial background

😕 Being passed over for “real” work

☝️ Leaders need to communicate their personal “why” for diversity so that everyone understands its benefit and importance. Whether that’s to better serve your customers thanks to unique insight or to reap the benefits of innovation and creativity thanks to a more diverse team.

If your new colleague will be the only person of their race in the team or company, it adds a whole new layer of pressure to those first day nerves. Members of minority groups can feel the need to be a positive representative for their race and disprove any negative stereotypes. There’s also the pressure to fit in and conform to majority ideals to avoid being seen as the other and treated differently. 

Steps to inclusive onboarding for Black colleagues

We know that inclusion manifests itself in everyday actions and small behaviors that are baked into a company’s culture. To complement our guide to inclusive onboarding, we’ve compiled actions you can take to make your onboarding experience more inclusive for new Black colleagues. 

Pair a new starter up with an established member of the business. Buddy systems are proven to help new employees maximize their productivity and job satisfaction — a necessary head start considering the fact that women of color in particular receive less support and sponsorship

Evaluate your bias around professionalism. What does professional or presentable mean to you? By accepting a white-centered idea of professionalism, managers, co-workers and recruiters have discriminated against Black women for wearing their hair naturally. Does your idea of “professionalism” ask for Black co-workers to downplay or reject their natural features? 

Animation art GIF by @kimthesim

✅ If your business hasn’t ever been racially diverse until now, don’t be afraid to admit it. Being open and saying, “we know we still have work to do in terms of diversity/representing all our customers at all business levels” lets your new colleague know that you understand they aren’t your one-and-done attempt at diversifying. 

Create a phonetic name directory. “My manager keeps getting my name wrong” doesn’t exactly say inclusive workplace. Save people the awkwardness or frustration of their name being a sticking point and create a written phonetic guide or an audio bank of everyone saying their own name.

If your new hire has a name you’re unfamiliar with, don’t jump to giving them a nickname that you feel comfortable with. Apologize, ask how it’s pronounced and put the time to get it right.

The calibrator will listen to my name, they'll slow down, they'll read my lips, they'll attempt to say it. They may get it wrong, but they try again. And they try and try until they finally get it. Sometimes, they'll come back to me the next day to ensure they've still got it... In life, always be a calibrator. - Gerardo Ochoa, public speaker

Introduce them to everyone. It’s an obvious one, but there are many Black people who can tell you of instances where they were assumed to not belong somewhere — like the programmer who was told they must be in the wrong room at an interview or the attorney who was assumed to be the defendant by the judge

Encourage your new teammate to bring as much of themselves to work by sharing a “User Manual of me” (and all doing this exercise as a team unit). Invite everyone to talk through how they like to work, their pet peeves and more to build that all-important psychological safety in their first few weeks. 

User manual for Cassie Robinson. Eight blocks with headers including "Conditions I like to work in", "The times/hours I like to work", "The best ways to communicate with me". "The ways I like to receive feedback", "Things I need", "Things I struggle with", "Things I love" and "Other things to know about me"

User Manual for Cassie Robinson via Medium.

In our version of the “User Manual of Me” at Hive Learning, we like to add room for things that are important to us so we have a section called ‘What motivates/inspires me’. 

❌ Don’t judge someone on how well they fit in.

At Hive Learning, we disagree with culture fit. Focusing on whether someone “fits in” to your existing culture is a barrier to inclusively accepting people for who they are. A Harvard Business Review piece notes that minorities feel more uncomfortable disclosing personal information to people of other races out of worry that something they say could reinforce stereotypes.

Instead, focus on getting to know the person in their own time by modeling psychological safety. That means sharing aspects of your personal life, and actively listening when others decide to do the same. 

❌ Don’t ask your Black colleague to speak on behalf of all Black people. Whether you’re soliciting an opinion on current affairs or listening to a lived experience, respect your colleague’s opinion as their own.

🗝️ Your key takeaway

Inclusive onboarding is vital to employee happiness and engagement. Avoid undoing the hard work put into diversifying your company by taking steps to help your Black employees feel like they belong from the first day, week and month. 

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