Why Your Retention Issue is Costing You Big

Katie Zink
4 min readNov 11, 2020

In 2019, Partners in Diversity conducted a study in collaboration with PSU Academic and Organizational Psychologist Dr. Larry Martinez to show what professionals of color are saying about today’s self-proclaimed progressive cities (namely, where I currently reside, Portland, Oregon).

The study found that professionals of color largely don’t believe Portland is a place they could call home long-term. Even if their workplaces were tolerable, life out in the community is more or less unbearable.

Portland has made a large shift into focusing on intentional recruiting efforts within communities of color. For the better part of a decade, the city has ranked as famously liberal and forward-thinking.

From the outside, it seems like a welcoming place. Many perceive Portland to be quirky, accepting of difference, and attractive to many young professionals looking for a place to call home, establish fulfilling careers, and raise families.

However, the data was clear, racism in Portland is very much still part of the experience for people of color and Black people.

So, how does the issue of employee retention cost companies?

Partners in Diversity found,

“For employers, in addition to losing the benefits of having a diverse workforce, the cost of replacing an employee is expensive. According to the by the Work Institute, costs associated with volunteer employee turnover reached a total of $617 billion.

They estimated that the average hard cost of losing a U.S. worker is about one-third the worker’s salary. The price includes direct costs, such as paying a recruiter, background checks, drug screens and hiring temporary workers.

There are also soft costs associated with losing an employee, such as reduced productivity, the time it takes to interview candidates, on-boarding time and loss of knowledge; not to mention the issue of office morale.”

Ultimately, despite the intentional recruiting efforts to increase headcount diversity, for many professionals of color, the experience of living in Portland strains on their collective livelihood so much so that companies are seeing a massive loss and an over-exertion of resources.

A Reflection of Lived Experience

In an effort to amplify the work done by organizations like Partners and Diversity and to spark some creative problem solving out in the community, I posed this data to participants in a workshop I recently hosted.

Stories were shared about the difficulties non-white employees experience when speaking up and self-advocating at work. Some shared examples from their own lives about how Portlanders seem to on extra good behavior to our Black neighbors and neighbors of color. This led to a discussion around the flood of optical allyship or “credentialing behavior” now pervasive in our working and community spaces today. This behavior has emerged largely in an effort to get on the radar of their desired job seekers and diverse talent, though is still having a disappointing effect on new hires of color.

Participants of color shared strategies that have served them well like affinity groups and caucuses for BIPOC focused and anti-white supremacy advocacy. Throughout the session, creative ideas emerged like having more culturally relevant resources for communities of color, upholding the presence of mutual aid, and community care efforts.

Though it was clear this data did not come as a surprise, a sense of hopefulness prevailed. Participants aligned on Portland’s potential as a city to move beyond the status quo and create a culture where everyone can thrive. Many expressed an acute sense of urgency for wanting BIPOC to enjoy living in Portland, despite historically rooted challenges and oppressive laws that have kept them out or resulted in stolen and currently occupied land.

Looking Forward

Because cultural experiences and needs are so different, Portland as a city continues to reckon with true allyship, which the study refers to as integration. Until we reach that point, mistakes from the white dominant culture are expected. Though, we are now seeing more new cultural norms in place to acknowledge these mistakes and continue learning better behavior.

Dr. Martinez explained,

“Integration exists theoretically, not actually…the chicken and egg problems of tokenism and representation are actually nest problems.”

How can Portland become a nest where anyone belongs?

Learning about tokenism is a solution gaining more and more traction as this conversation continues. Becoming aware of tokenizing behavior means to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on individuals of color to solve the issues Portland (or any city) faces. One individual of a certain community does not represent the sentiments of an entire population and it’s incredibly taxing to feel like one must do so.

Over time, a natural increase in the representation of communities of color and continued practice of allyship may support Portland’s sense of urgency and aspirations to continue diversifying this place we call home.

The study also concludes with proposed community and workplace solutions, which can be found here.

Originally published at https://katiezink.co on November 11, 2020.



Katie Zink

DEI Strategist | Facilitator | Writer | Believes we’re all capable of our own revolution. Learn more about my signature consulting program at katiezink.co