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The talent life cycle: Attract and retain a diverse workforce

March 8, 2023
Embedding DEI into practice operations greatly benefits your employees and patients.The time is now!

Author’s note: This two-part series provides evidenced-based concepts and tools readers can use to develop and hit organizational targets while implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their talent life cycles, i.e., fill positions, update job ads, create accountability in hiring and onboarding, reviews, feedback, and advance retention programs.

With the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffling, Quiet Quitting, and COVID-19, we know it’s a tough labor market. Employees know they have power in choosing where and how they work. Since dentistry is a patient-facing profession, employees are needed to show up and care for patients. To attract and retain people to your practice, you must listen to them and authorize changes.

Now is the time to reexamine your practice’s talent life cycle and embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into your operations. This will improve the experience of your employees and patients; maximize employee retention, engagement, and productivity; decrease turnover1; and integrate cultures amid mergers and acquisitions2 and competitive positioning.3

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A key to the dental staffing crisis: Increasing diversity
Perspectives of dental diversity

Defining the talent life cycle

The talent life cycle begins with a practice’s reputation and branding before they post a job. Traditionally, it starts with bringing someone into a role and managing their experience until they leave the position. They could take another position in the practice or leave for another opportunity. Here are the four stages of the talent life cycle:3

The sourcing and recruiting stage: This is about comprehensive, creative, fair, and equitable selection processes that ensure a diverse slate of well-qualified candidates is presented, and the best candidate for the job is hired.

The onboarding stage: This considers what new hires’ first days on the job look and feel like. What does an employee need in order to engage in the culture and be successful in their new role?

The compensating and rewarding fairly stage: Compensation is only part of it; leaders must learn what will motivate individual employees to continue doing their best work.4 This includes ensuring base pay is fair and equitable across practices and regions.5

The assessing, retaining, and development stage: This evaluates inclusive behaviors and competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities). This considers who has potential for future leadership and growth opportunities and helps talent grow in their career development.

Sourcing and recruiting

In this stage, organizations find talent for their open jobs. This can be achieved either internally or externally. There’s usually a desperate rush to fill an open position as soon as possible. Some organizations have a “days to fill” key performance indicator (KPI), which makes the recruiter act fast for fear of missing the specified deadline. This may mean the recruiter, being under pressure, may only go to one or two familiar sources to search for applicants.

When I work with clients at this stage, I often hear, “It’s a pipeline issue.” I usually respond, “No, in this case, it’s a competing KPI issue.” If you claim your practice wants to attract diverse candidates yet has no diversity targets or measures that ensures a diverse slate of well-qualified candidates, your hiring managers, recruiters, and or talent acquisition team have competing priorities.

Oral health equity research states that representation matters in seeking and providing care.6 Homophily is “the tendency to seek care with people who are similar to themselves, maybe one strategy for overcoming mistrust and reducing oral health inequities,” according to Anti-Racism in Dental Public Health: A Call to Action.5 Suppose patients cannot see themselves in those who provide care. It should not be a surprise if patient satisfaction scores, the number of reviews or word-of-mouth referrals, or case acceptance numbers are lower among patients whose providers do not share any of their identities. Three benchmarks to consider when setting diversity hiring measures are the national average, local demographics, and dental market data. 6-9

Dental practices serious about DEI must dig deeper into the talent pipeline and spend time and resources outside the organization to diversify the industry. A long-term strategy for increasing diversity in the pool of qualified candidates is working to mentor and introduce dental careers to underrepresented populations and partnering with institutions that serve minorities and are already doing this work.7-9

According to Bernadette Smith, author of Inclusive 360, “research shows that diversity targets lead talent acquisition teams to be more creative in their search for candidates, wildly expanding the talent pool.” The key is to develop a diversity plan driven by your company’s current data tied to the overall department and organizational KPIs. The intervention is to seek out candidates from new sourcing places to increase your chances of recruiting from a diverse mix. Additionally, develop a structured sourcing and hiring approach that includes measures to eliminate subjectivity and unconscious bias from the sourcing and recruiting processes.5-9

Preonboarding and onboarding

Once you have assessed your present candidate pool and identified diversity gaps, develop KPIs, processes, and accountabilities to ensure that your recruiting efforts extend to a variety of networks. When somebody is hired, move into the next stage, which enables the hire to be successful in their new role.

Preonboarding (initiated as soon as the candidate accepts the position and before their first day on the job) and onboarding standard operating procedures (SOPs) are vital for newcomers because they have not yet built trusting relationships. Think about when you started a new job and were not introduced to colleagues, didn’t know where the bathroom was, or didn’t know the norm for lunch. Your first day of work is a disorienting experience. Considering the current job market, new employees may not be 100% committed to your company, and they may still be fielding other offers.

Therefore, managers, leaders, and team members must immediately incorporate inclusion concepts and SOPs so that newcomers feel like insiders from the start. Half-baked onboarding processes can be overwhelming for the hiring manager or team members because they are usually outside of their expertise. Yet, it’s possible to have an inclusive onboarding process and handle one’s day job.

“Onboarding is a comprehensive process involving management and other employees that can last up to 12 months,” wrote Roy Maurer in New Employee Onboarding Guide. A best practice is setting up structured check-ins to ensure that managers and employees have frequent feedback and check-in sessions. Assign a buddy or peer sponsor to new hires so they have someone other than their manager to answer their questions. Current data shows this partnership helps them get ready, get started, and establish themselves to become a productive team member.7-9


A lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in your talent life cycle is a fixable problem when you’re committed to analyzing the entire talent process for gaps, solving those gaps, tracking measures, creating dashboards, and including systems of accountability. In my second article, I’ll discuss interventions that support rewards and competition and the employee’s experience, and what to do to make employees feel they belong so they enjoy a positive, engaged, and long-term future at your company.

The information below does not represent all of the DEI sourcing, recruiting, or onboarding interventions you can implement, but rather the evidence-based or best practice ones.

Embedding DEI measures and actions into sourcing and recruiting6-9

  1. Develop an internal and external recruitment strategy per practice, department, or position. This includes assessments of the current state, measures/goals to track, and action items for accountability and follow-through.
  2. Develop a scorecard for clinical and behavioral knowledge, skills, attitudes, and abilities per position. What does it look like to be successful in this role?
  3. Build bridges with HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), HSIs (Hispanic serving institutions), HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities), TCUs (Tribal Colleges and Universities), and AANAPISIs (Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions).
  4. Develop partnerships with organizations that support veterans, Black, LGBTIQ+, Latinx, and Asian people, previously incarcerated people, and those with criminal records.
  5. Assess if the lived experiences of your organization’s brand messaging on social outlets, career pages, and websites match the actual lived experiences of employees.
  6. Ensure transparency during all facets of the talent life cycle.
  7. Develop employee resource groups and/or diversity councils.

 Embedding DEI measures and actions into onboarding6-9

  1. Develop a people-first culture. Company-wide inclusive training may be indicated.
  2. Using a “decoder ring” as a metaphor, develop a resource for new hires so they can quickly get up to speed on the culture and processes of your company.
  3. Create checklists or process maps to support managers and colleagues in being confident that they’re taking care of all new hires.
  4. Assess and personalize your preonboarding and onboarding processes.
  5. Mitigate the culture of spoken and unspoken frustrations of current employees so the hidden culture doesn’t negatively influence your new hires.
  6. Introduce new hires to your employee resource groups to encourage the feeling of belonging.
  7. If your dental group is in high gear with integrating different dental practice cultures and mergers, set a cultural agenda and assessments: perspectives shape retention and future talent life cycle stages.

Author’s note: Diversity: The broadest definition focuses on our differences. The full scope of diversity goes beyond gender, race, and ethnicity. Organizational diversity considers the multiple and unique ways in which people look, think, feel, believe, solve problems, communicate, learn, interact with others, etc. Equity refers to the fair and respectful treatment of people. Inclusion is creating space and places where everyone is a stakeholder.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the March 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.


  1. Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. McKinsey & Company. May 19, 2020. Accessed
    December 2022. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
  2. CDE Exam Study Guide. 2018. The Society of Diversity Inc. https://shop.societyfordiversity.org/product.sc?productId=16
  3. Get certified in DEI. Practitioner Program Level 1 and 2. Jennifer Brown Consulting. 2022. https://jenniferbrownconsulting.com/courses
  4. Economy P. How the Platinum Rule trumps the Golden Rule every time. Accessed December 2022. https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/how-the-platinum-rule-trumps-the-golden-rule-every-time.html
  5. Anti-racism in dental public health: a call to action. American Association of Public Health Dentistry. AAPHD Council on Scientific Information. 2021. Springfield, Illinois.
  6. Anand R. Leading Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Berrett-Koehler; 2022.
  7. Auger-Dominguez D. Inclusion Revolution. The Essential Guide to Dismantling Racial Inequality in the Workplace. Seal Press. New York; 2022.
  8. Smith B. Inclusive 360: Proven Solutions for an Equitable Organization. Goodnow Flow Publishing; 2021.
  9. Mattingly V, Grice S, Goldstein A. Inclusalytics: How Diversity, Equity, and inclusion Leaders Use Data to Drive Their Work. Mattingly Solutions; 2022.)
About the Author

Kristine Berry, MSEC, CDE

Kristine Berry MSEC, CDE, (she/her) is a strategic operation thought partner who provides diversity, equity, and inclusion functions and advisory services to DSOs, dental groups, and any company seeking to create a DEI ecosystem to transform operations, advance the customer experience, and cultivate a workplace of equity and belonging. She’s an author, international speaker, and ERG architect and trainer. If you want to implement a DEIB, visit dentaldiversityandinclusionalliance.com or email [email protected].

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