UnTapped: Engage and Retain

Business leaders share how diverse workforces make for productive workplaces.


L-R: Alden E. Habacon, Kristin Bower, Sarah White, Steven Fitzgerald, and Kirsten Sutton

On Tuesday, May 10, the UnTapped Series hosted a power breakfast that featured a panel of business leaders with expertise in engaging employees from diverse talent pools. This event was a follow up to the series’ April 5 breakfast event that focused on attracting diverse talent. In the earlier event, the panel explored creative recruitment tactics for accessing traditionally untapped talent pools, such as millennials, Aboriginal people, women, immigrants, and others. A key lesson was this: Hiring a diverse workforce is not just about opening the door; it’s about widening it by ensuring that the recruitment process is as accessible as possible to draw in diverse pools of talent.

Engage and Retain proved to be equally informative, inspiring and a fitting follow-up event to the first breakfast. Industry leaders shared strategies on creating inclusive environments and revealed specific practices they implement to enhance engagement, strengthen workplace culture and ultimately increase productivity.

So why should businesses look into hiring, engaging, and retaining diverse pools of talent in the first place? Kerry Jothen, CEO of Human Capital Strategies, asserted that because the “labour market is changing, businesses [have to tap] into diverse workforces to stay competitive and ahead of the coming changes.” From a business lens, the competitive edge to low turnover costs is significant. Panel moderator and Diversity and Inclusion Strategist, Alden E. Habacon, cited that the cost of employee turnover for a mid-career professional averages “1.5 times their salary.”

So what can be done? One way to address high turnover cost is to hire employees with high retention rates. Research shows that historically, retention rates vary across population groups. For instance, a 2001 Statistics Canada survey reported that the rate of staff retention is “72% higher among persons with disabilities” in comparison to their co-workers without a disability. Further to this report, people with disabilities did as well or better at their jobs than co-workers without a disability, and they rated an 86% average or better in work attendance. These statistics illustrate that workers with disabilities can not only keep a business competitive, but help it thrive.

What do organizations seeking to engage and retain a diverse workforce need to know to create and sustain an inclusive workplace? One piece of advice that panel members shared was: Be intentional about being a change-maker, and set up the foundation in the workplace.

Kristen Sutton, Managing Director, SAP

Be Intentional About Being a Change-Maker
If an organization’s reasons to develop a diverse workforce are not sincere, engaging and retaining employees will prove to be a challenge. It is imperative that organizations recognize the contributions of a diverse workforce. Kristin Bower, Advisor, People Innovation and Impact at VanCity, contends, “We are very intentional about our attraction and retention policies because we need to reflect the communities we serve.” As a business, having a workforce that mirrors the diversity of the community may further strengthen the bond of that business and community.


Sarah White, COO and Co-Founder of Fairware

Once an organization’s intentions to hire diverse talent are set, connecting with local community agencies can be a helpful next step. Some panel members noted that linking up with service partners such as Open Door Group can increase an organization’s access to untapped talents. Service partners also have the needed expertise to advise management on their approach to diverse hiring. Kirsten Sutton, Managing Director at SAP noted, “…the work inside the organization to prepare is critical. [But] finding community partners is equally critical.” Fellow panelists echoed the value of reaching out, reminding senior management that they do not have to have all the answers.

Setting the Foundation
To establish and sustain the value diversity brings to the workplace, laying the right foundation is key. Sarah White, COO and Co-Founder of Fairware, revealed “There’s no way to retain people or invite people in unless there’s an atmosphere of respect and inclusion.”

Steven Fitzgerald, CEO, Habanero Consulting

Most employees are ambitious and driven, and diverse hires are no exception. Senior management is therefore in a position to help them realize their potential as they do with all employees. One way this can be accomplished is through a shift in organizational structure. For instance, reducing or removing hierarchical components of an organization’s structure may reduce boundaries in the workplace. Steven Fitzgerald shared that his company, Habanero Consulting, fosters diversity by assembling cross-functional teams within different departments, an approach that exposes employee to new thinking and brings together diverse strengths and skill sets. When it comes to its employees’ career development, Habanero utilizes a design-thinking approach instead of imposing rigid career tracks. According to Stephen, creating career maps suited to employees’ abilities, allows Habanero to tap into their full potential.

Taking Action
To create and grow inclusive workplaces, make workforce diversification a priority on the strategic planning level. Be intentional about being a change-maker, and establish the foundation in the organizational culture to engage and retain a diverse workforce. Habacon sums it up nicely, “We all want people to feel valued, respected, wanted, and empowered to contribute to their maximum potential.” After all, the key to any organization’s success is the effective utilization of its most important asset—its people.

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