LONDON, U.K., September 15, 2022

How HR Can Advance Underrepresented Talent in a Hybrid Work Environment

Q&A with Jane Alancheril

In today’s hybrid work environment, many employees report that their organization feels more inclusive, likely due to increased flexibility and more time for individual priorities. Unfortunately, the reality is that for many organizations, the shift to hybrid work arrangements is challenging their ability to drive long-term inclusion efforts. Most concerning for HR leaders is racial disparities in long-term advancement outcomes.

We sat down with Jane Alancheril, senior director, advisory, in the Gartner HR practice, following her Gartner ReimagineHR EMEA Conference 2022 session – “Advancing Underrepresented Talent in a Hybrid Work Environment” – to discuss the current state of inclusion, and how HR leaders can make progress on their diversity, equity and inclusion goals with a dispersed workforce.

Q: Why are HR leaders concerned about the advancement of underrepresented talent at this time? 

A:  HR leaders have identified three troubling markers regarding driving long-term DEI efforts

Growing racial disparity in opportunities. Our data reveals that employees who are racially dissimilar from their peers are more than 20% less likely to receive skill development opportunities to reward performance in a hybrid work environment.

Unfair management treatment. We’ve found that there is a 6-percentage-point increase in hybrid employees being frequently treated unfairly by their manager versus employees onsite. Racially dissimilar employees are more likely to experience this unfair treatment. 

Quantity and quality of peer connections. Working remotely means less interaction for hybrid employees with colleagues. Further, racially dissimilar employees are more likely than racially similar employees to have frequently been made fun of because of their identity while working in a hybrid model. 

Q: What can HR do to advance underrepresented talent now that hybrid work is the norm for many organizations and employees?

A: Progressive organizations are employing three strategies:

  • Create more employee-led personalization of development opportunities
  • Equip managers to have trusted, open dialogue with employees 
  • Improve team connection and collaboration

Q: How can HR ensure development opportunities are equitable when employees are not co-located?

A: In today’s hybrid work environment, employees report they have both less access to their leaders and less visibility into opportunities. In an onsite environment, 40% of black employees say the biggest obstacle in their career is not having the opportunity for advancement.  Only 31% of black employees have access to their senior leaders, compared to 44% of white employees.  This is only compounded more in a hybrid environment.

Most organizations address this challenge by creating more formal leader-driven skill building opportunities. This strategy isn’t wrong, but we recommend that organizations give employees more autonomy over skill building opportunities in the form of personalization in tandem.  

Individual-driven skill building opportunities allow employees to express what experiences they want or need for their desired career path and allows opportunities to be surfaced that align with that. Employees feel more valued when they can choose their own experiences which in turn increases their use of organization sponsored development. 

Q: How should HR leaders tackle manager bias?

A: Bias that impacts career advancement typically occurs when managers favor employees who are racially similar to them when providing advancement opportunities – intentionally or unintentionally – or when managers set employees’ opportunities based on racial perceptions rather than demonstrated work or articulated interests. 

HR leaders can enable managers to reduce bias by helping them build trust with employees in order to have more authentic conversations. However, we hear from HR leaders that racially diverse employees have difficulty having authentic conversations with their managers and often feel their managers do not advocate for their advancement.

Building manager empathy to the experiences of underrepresented talent is critical to overcoming this bias.  Provide a forum wherein associates share their individual experiences and barriers that they encounter.  Allow some time for the manager to self-reflect and then have a transparent conversation with the underrepresented talent.

Q: How can HR help employees create a more diverse network?

A: Cross-race interactions are more stressful in a hybrid environment where it’s more difficult to understand communication styles and cultural differences while differences in status or experience are on display. But having a broad and deep network can be invaluable for employees looking to grow their careers.

To help racially diverse employees grow their networks in quality and quality, HR leaders need to diversify the connections racially dissimilar employees have at work. Connections should be fostered across life stages, similar interests (and not just backgrounds) and with peer mentors and coaches. Next, HR leaders need to diversify the collaboration between all employees at work by leveraging peer-to-peer feedback, peer coaching and bias mitigation in meetings.

Gartner ReimagineHR Conference

The Gartner ReimagineHR Conference is the premier event for CHROs and HR leaders to learn from the latest research and Gartner experts covering talent acquisition, diversity, equity and inclusion, learning and development, total rewards, talent analytics, and HR technology. Gartner ReimagineHR is taking place today and tomorrow, September 15-16, in London and October 24-26 in Florida. Follow news and updates from these events on Twitter using #GartnerHR.

If you are a member of the media who would like to speak further on these topics with Jane Alancheril, please contact Mary Baker at Members of the media can reference this material in their articles with proper attribution to Gartner.

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