The battle for talent and inequality at work - two problems, one major headache for businesses

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett October 22, 2021
Talent shortages + rampant inequality = big trouble for growing organizations. A SuiteWorld panel session tried to offer some advice.


The Women’s Leadership keynote at NetSuite’s SuiteWorld began with some pretty alarming statistics. Here’s a snapshot of the data shared by Danielle Kayembe of FQ Impact, host of the session:

  • 100% of people who lost their jobs in the US in December 2020 were women; men gained about 16,000 jobs during the same period.
  • 2.1 million women have been forced out of or left the workforce during the COVID pandemic, compared to 1.7 million men.
  • There are currently 10 million available jobs in the US, but only nine million people are looking for work.
  • Close to half of employees plan to leave their jobs in the next three to six months.
  • Staff turnover can cost up to 300% of an employee salary.
  • 41% of employers have had to increase benefits, from offering pet insurance to sign-on bonuses, to entice people back to work.
  • 26% of jobs in the tech space are held by women, 6% by Asian women, 3% African American women and 2% Hispanic women.

These stats paint a worrying picture of a business world – especially the technology sector - failing to address the lack of diversity and equality at their organizations, as more staff prepare to hand in their notice, leading to even higher costs to attract new talent.

In the face of so many different pressures, what action do companies need to take right now to ensure they attract and retain the best and most diverse talent? To try and answer this question, NetSuite brought together a group of women leaders at SuiteWorld this week to share their advice.

First up, it’s time to ask some really provocative, straightforward questions to hiring managers, managers and employees, advised Darlene Slaughter, Chief Diversity Officer at March of Dimes Foundation:

I have lots of conversations with people and say, how many people do you have on your team and tell me who they are. You have to get people to stop because it becomes - I have a team full of men, I don't think about that, I have a team full of women, I don't think about that, I don't have any diversity on my team, I don't think about that.

At March of Dimes Foundation, the staff were already engaged in a lot of those kinds of conversations in the wake of the George Floyd murder and due to the pandemic highlighting the many inequalities in society. Many of those conversations were about race and racism, and race and racism that happens in the workplace, Slaughter noted: 

It’s about how we have courageous conversations. We stretch the boundaries of how people were thinking and we started to show people what the bias actually looks like, what the privilege looks like, in a way that was acceptable. We had employees begin to listen to each other. That then takes us to, as we are recruiting, we are opening up people's minds to who's not at the table.

The challenge for companies when they’re recruiting for certain positions in a climate where people are leaving as fast as they're coming in, and they’re focused on retaining people, is they just want to fill the job: 

But when you want to just fill the job, you forget about who's not at the table. Having those conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion really helped people to say, slow down, step back, who do you know, who's in your network and who should you be talking to.

The Great Resignation

Firms also need to realise the shift in what motivates people at work, according to Jennifer Smith, Group Vice President, Marketing at Oracle NetSuite. People always wanted to find purpose in their job, but it has never been more prevalent than in the last 18 months. As The Great Resignation continues and people are leaving their roles, it’s becoming apparent they're not necessarily leaving for the competitor; they’re leaving because they can't sit and do that one thing every single day. Smith added:

They need to have a purpose, they need to feel like they're part of something. It's not just the hiring, it's the onboarding that becomes even more important. How do you keep them?

Sara Kaur, CFO at Codex Beauty, agreed that there needs to be much more focus on onboarding new employees to ensure they feel welcome, that the company cares about them, and they have a sense of belonging. This is especially true for returners to work after a long period away, who most often are women after time off raising children or looking after an elderly parent. Kaur said:

When people have been away from work for quite a while, they actually have lost the confidence of being able to communicate with other people. With technology, that's also meant that people can work remotely from all across the globe and it can be very lonely.

Kaur, who is also responsible for HR at Codex, has copied the ‘Noogler’ scheme she herself experienced when working at Google in its early days: new employees, called Nooglers, were assigned a 'start buddy'. When Codex hires a new employee, the firm finds a person who is in a closer time zone to them or somebody who's in a different role altogether, and asks them to help the joiner understand the company, she explained: 

That's worked out really well because it meant that we cared about that person being able to be successful in the new role, but at the same time, trying to bring them back into the workforce so that - especially when working remotely - they don't feel lonely.


The technology sector is a particularly tricky one for the returners market, according to Rebecca Bayles, Managing Director at Deloitte Digital. In the 1990s, 37% of the tech workforce were women; this has fallen to 21% in 2020, a drop Bayles attributed to the tech world changing so quickly:

It’s so much harder to come back. Your skillset has to be refreshed and renewed even faster than it used to be.

Deloitte has been running a program for the last five years called Encore, a return to work program that recruits primarily women who have been out of their careers for a while. This entails some very specific on the job training, not just for a few weeks but over a couple of months. Bayles added:

Once they have done that training and joined a team, we make sure that we are providing really deliberate mentorship, very specific opportunities to be on teams where they're going to be exposed to what I call good roles, where it's not just filling a gap, it's something that we think would fit them really well and where they will shine.

When you have attracted new people to the business, the staff retention aspect becomes a lot easier if you give people an opportunity to meet after so long working remotely, according to Smith.

We just did sales club this past weekend, and I would say at least 60% of the people had never met each other before and here they are, all coming together and what an amazing opportunity. People were so gracious and happy to just see each other.

Firms also need to act on what they their staff are telling the company they want. Smith cited Oracle’s employee survey asking how staff feel about working with their manager, how they feel about their job and what they want:

It's so interesting how much time over the last year we've spent looking at that and trying to figure out how to take action. Because you can listen and you can do all these things, but if you take no action on all of that, it doesn't mean anything.

This is an ideal time for business leaders to look at everything differently, to realise they don't have to keep doing things in the same way they have always been done, and to act on what staff want. Smith explained:

When we looked at what the issues were for my organization, what people really needed was acknowledgement, they needed more communication and that communication has to be constant. We started something called the high five, a monthly meeting where we gave each other high fives literally. We had not the management team talk, but we picked people out of the organization that never got a chance to talk and learn about what they do, how they do it, and what's important to them.

One thing we found as we went through that was that it had been a long 18 months and that people were really not feeling very inspired, which led to the whole, why are people leaving - it's not because the grass is greener, it’s because they just need something.

In response, Smith launched a competition for her team called ‘What inspires you’. Getting the team to open up and talk about all these issues was difficult, but it helped connect with people far away:

We had one woman in Manila, who put together a 10-minute video on her favorite band BTS and it was phenomenal. I know more about her, I also learned about something I didn't know about, and it created a memory and a connection. It's just listening and getting them to share, and it was so fun to watch, so we opened it up to the rest of the organization too and asked other people to come. Sometimes you just need to not talk about work.

My take

Real world data and experiences that should grab the attention of every business leader as a warning of the talent shortage they’re facing and the inequality rampant across their organizations.

A grey colored placeholder image