Hidden Bias in the Workplace: Retention Strategies

Hidden Bias graphic

So you, as an employer, have successfully implemented a recruiting strategy focused on increasing diversity and inclusion in your workforce. Your employee base is different from five years ago. It now includes more individuals of color, women, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, and workers of all ages and body types. It is the hope of management that – along with a more diverse workforce – employee longevity is one of the benefits. Retention is as important for employers as developing a strong recruiting strategy that attracts applicants with the right skills in the first place.

What is equity theory?

According to John S. Adams, a behavioral psychologist, equity theory is based on the concept that when your employee feels like you’re treating them in an advantageous way, they’re more likely to be motivated to work hard. Their morale is high and they’re full of energy. However, when an employee feels like management and/or leadership is treating them unfairly – particularly in relation to how they perceive colleagues being treated, they don’t feel satisfied and are more prone to be demotivated.

Employee satisfaction, according to equity theory, is a matter of keeping a perceived balance between what an employee puts into their job (“inputs”) – time, effort, commitment, personal sacrifice, skill, loyalty, etc. – and what they get in return (“outputs”) – pay, job security, benefits, praise, responsibility, etc.


Inputs = Outputs


Focus No. 1: Ensuring equity

Workplace equity can mean the difference between having a balanced, productive workforce versus an unbalanced, unproductive one. Equity gives people equal access to opportunities. It creates an environment beneficial to both the employee and the employer by increasing gains for employees through career advancement and job satisfaction and for employers through workforce loyalty and retention.

According to https://work.chron.com, there are several advantages for employers whose overall strategy includes creating a more equitable work environment:

  • Achievement – Opportunities afforded by an equitable workplace motivate employees to achieve. Believing that rewards will be commensurate with effort, employees with ability and drive strive to shine. When people receive bonuses, pay and promotions at a job that equitably rewards merit, the company ends up with the right people in the right places doing the right things. Equity sets the stage for a dynamic culture of achievement.
  • Employee retention – Equity also encourages employee retention. An employee who believes they can have a bright future with a company wants to stay. When employees stay, companies don’t have “brain drain” or the expense of training replacements. Their former employees don’t enrich competitors with training that they provided.
  • Attracting talent – This is easier for companies that pursue workplace equity and foster a meritocracy than it is for those that do only enough to avoid breaking employment laws. People who have a lot to offer want to be compensated fairly without worrying about hidden agendas that lead to preferential treatment for a chosen few. An equitable workplace means investment of brains, energy and dedication pays off.
  • Breadth by diversity – Diversity in a workplace means more experience, more perspectives and more source material to draw from in brainstorming, solving problems and creating innovative products or services. A company’s intellectual capital gains depth and breadth through diversity.
  • Enhanced bottom line – A company culture that rewards achievement, has breadth and depth, retains employees, and draws top talent makes that company competitive and favorably affects its bottom line. Such companies also tend to have high morale. A 2010 study published in Inc. showed that companies with highly engaged employees performed better than normal in the stock market and enjoyed higher shareholder returns than other firms.


Focus No. 2: Providing opportunities for training and promotion

Employers should constantly encourage employees to develop their skills set during their employment. Employees should not be so certain of their job security that they stop learning new things. Employers who support continuing training opportunities build a stronger bond with their employees. Resources include registered apprenticeships and pipeline training as well as grants through the state that can help offset training costs. Here are some links to more information. Other low- or no-cost training – such as free online classes or in-house training – should be considered.

Employers can address skills gaps through regular communication with staff. Managers should meet with employees to discuss job performance and the value of professional development for both the employee and the company. Employers can show they’re invested in the growth of each employee by creating a professional development plan (PDP) with them. PDP templates can be found on the internet or put together by the employer.

Setting up mentor/mentee programs can also be helpful in retaining your workforce. Some employers are finding ways to connect newer, more entry-level employees with more experienced workers. The idea is to not only to show newer employees the ropes, but also to demonstrate that there is opportunity for promotion and growth within the company. Companies such as American Express and Bank of America have created sponsorship programs to help advance targeted groups such as women and people of color within the company.


Focus No. 3: Developing inclusive workforce practices

If you asked employers what are the three key elements needed for employees to feel a sense of belonging, would they know? Would they be aware that a sense of belonging factors into employee retention? Many companies recently have created a new executive position: Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). The goal of CDOs is to promote workforce diversity by implementing new workforce practices.  


Diversity + Equity + Inclusion = Belonging

Belonging = Retention


Inclusion means allowing everyone a seat at the table when it comes to everything from hiring to developing company policy. Employees want to feel that their opinions and knowledge matter and are considered when decisions are made that affect the group. For employers still on the fence about applying inclusive workforce practices to their daily operations, here are some of the benefits you can expect if you take certain steps.


  • Encourage honest feedback from staff – Though surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations, employers can get to know and understand who their employees are. Employees who feel they belong are more likely to stay. Along with reaching out to the entire staff, employers might want to seek specific feedback from those in under-represented groups to find out what their experience of the workplace culture is.
  • Be proactive in developing retention plans – No two people leave a company for the exact same reason. Employers should have in their retention toolbox a process for identifying if an employee wants to leave and – and whether anything can be done to encourage them to stay. Some employers have regular “stay interviews” (similar to one-on-one conversations) to find out if there are any issues or concerns that can be caught early and addressed. Stay interviews are considered one of the most effective retention tools, especially with employees of color.  
  • Listen to new ideas – Having an inclusive workforce sparks new ways of thinking and problem solving. People who feel their voices are being heard are not only more likely to stay in their jobs – but also more likely to share new ideas and contribute to the work environment, making it more innovative and productive. According to research done by McKinsey & Co., when ideas from employees are heard, they’re more motivated to come together and outperform most other teams at the company by 35%.


Other factors in retention

Even after implementing one-on-one conversations, increasing inclusivity, and developing programs to upskill your workforce, you’ll still have some employees walk out the door. It’s impossible for employers to have a 100% retention/0% turnover rate – although most would like to get as close as possible. Employers need to look carefully at some other factors that could be affecting retention.

  • Micromanaging – No employee wants to feel as if they’re considered incompetent to perform their job duties. A feeling of distrust can decrease staff motivation. Managers who “helicopter manage” may think they’re doing what’s best for daily operations – but that’s not how employees see it. They’ll look for other companies offering a sense of trust and self-sufficiency. As the saying goes: Employees don’t quit their job, they quit their manager.
  • Lack of confidence in company leadership – Sometimes it takes years to gain the trust of employees and one instant to lose it. Employees are looking to management for motivation and inspiration. If employees feel no sense of direction from the leadership, they start to jump ship.
  • Everyone being treated the same – Many if not most employees want to do their job to the best of their ability and will give 100%. They’d like to be recognized for their effort. A pet peeve for them is when leadership fails to recognize the difference between good and poor performance. If employees see mediocre work receive the same praise as exceptional work, they may become discouraged and look for a company that can tell the difference.
  • Poor communication – A lack of sharing or providing clarifying information – or leaving employees to interpret what was shared – can make employees question their company’s vision and future. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks – and sometimes to assume the worst. The last thing an employer wants is for false rumors to spread.


By implementing strategies that have been shown to work and avoiding practices that can demotivate staff, employers can improve employee retention – and their bottom line.

Additional Resources:

The Advantages of Equity in the Workplace

What is Equity Theory?

Apprenticeship and Dual Training (MN Department of Labor and Industry)

5 Benefits of Creating Inclusion in the Workplace

5 Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Workplace


Workforce Strategy Consultant Author:

Adesewa Adesiji, Workforce Strategy Consultant for Metro (Twin Cities)


Related CareerForceMN.com content:

Main Hidden Bias in the Workplace page

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