MLT Blog

Three ways organizations can retain high-performing people of color

By: Trevor Teason & Kristy An

For most organizations, creating and maintaining a diverse workforce is challenging. Unfortunately, once people of color (Black, Hispanic/Latine, or Native American) are hired, organizations fail to advance and retain these employees. MLT has over 20 years of experience helping 10,000+ people of color advance their careers. To better understand their workplace experiences and help organizations better support high-performing underrepresented talent, MLT surveyed members of their Alumni community. Shockingly, over half (55%) of Alumni stated they do not intend to stay at their current employer beyond the next couple of years.

Why are employers struggling to retain high-performing Black, Hispanic/Latine, and Native American (BLNA) talent?

MLT finds the most significant factors causing high-performing people of color to leave their employers are:

  1. A lack of confidence that they belong 
  2. A lack of confidence they can grow their careers in their current organizations 

MLT Alumni who feel a strong sense of belonging and can visualize clear growth potential are about four times more likely to stay with their employers. To retain high-performing people of color, organizations need to do three things:

1. Provide clear and actionable feedback for BLNA employees 

Compared to White men, employees of color received more biased and less actionable feedback. This is even more pronounced for women of color. MLT’s research uncovered that nearly half (43%) of MLT Alumni do not receive clear information regarding expectations and standards for promotion. This “bar” for promotion and clarity on career advancement is often learned through informal networks, which people of color are likely to be excluded from. 

Organizations must provide transparency about the promotion process as well as clearly communicate benchmarks for promotions. Measures should be taken to ensure employees of color are fully informed and understand these steps for advancement.

2. Help create and strengthen internal networks

Among MLT’s survey respondents, those who have a strong internal network are 2.5 times more likely to have confidence that they belong at work. However, MLT Alumni struggle to build meaningful relationships and networks because they feel they cannot justify the time spent away from their desks. Due to this, building networks often takes a back seat for high-performing people of color. Black knowledge workers, whose jobs lie in applying analytics and theoretical knowledge, stated one of their most pressing challenges at work is “making sure [their] employer knows [they] are working.” 

Managers need to ensure their employees aren’t viewed negatively during performance evaluation as employees actively work to build up their networks. This assurance frees up employees to join Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which help people of color develop and strengthen their networks. They may also feel more freedom to join formal mentorship programs.

3. Teach people managers how to build confidence and skills 

For better or for worse, managers have an outsized impact on employees’ experiences. MLT finds that Alumni with supportive managers are twice as likely to feel confident that they belong in their organizations and can achieve their career goals. 

Unfortunately, people managers are typically neither trained nor incentivized to build confidence in the people of color reporting to them. Research has proved that fears of being labeled as biased or racist hold evaluators back from giving direct and actionable feedback necessary for learning and improvement. 

To educate people managers, organizations must design effective, ongoing training (hint: not about unconscious bias) that addresses root causes while reinforcing positive managerial behaviors with continuous coaching and accountability. Occasional trainings held sporadically that do not address root causes essentially become “random acts of diversity.” 

[Those] who feel confident they can achieve their career goals and that they belong are four times more likely to stay with their employers.”

Corporate America spends countless hours and billions of dollars attempting to diversify workforces. A key reason for the lack of progress is not the “pipeline problem”- it is the fact that workplaces are a leaky bucket for people of color. Organizations must address the development, advancement, and retention of their underrepresented talent. Without addressing these elements, organizations’ efforts to diversify will fail to make lasting impacts.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) has helped more than 40 companies adopt best practices for retaining diverse talent. For further information about how to best engage with MLT’s Advisory Services, please contact