3 Actions to More Effectively Advance Underrepresented Talent

August 10, 2020

Contributor: Mary Baker

Intent alone won’t fix bias. HR and diversity, equity and inclusion leaders need to assess the systems and processes that systematically deter equal opportunity.

Nearly every company today would state that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a business priority, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an April Gartner survey, 69% of heads of DEI said that they are prioritizing the advancement of underrepresented talent. However, another recent Gartner survey of 113 HR leaders reveals that 88% feel their organization has not been effective at increasing diverse representation.

Learn more: Resources for HR Leaders in a New Role

Gartner TalentNeuron™ data confirms the lack of diversity among the leadership of U.S. companies. Its data shows that among senior-level corporate positions, only 10% are held by a woman from a racial or ethnic minority and only 18% by a man from a minority segment.

“ There is no two-hour training remedy for this challenge. Organizations need to assess their current systems and processes to mitigate bias”

Gartner has identified these organizational barriers to the advancement of underrepresented talent:

  • Unclear career paths and steps to advancement
  • Too little exposure to senior leaders
  • Lack of mentors or career support

“There is no two-hour training remedy for this challenge. Organizations need to assess their current systems and processes to mitigate bias and address organizational factors that prohibit equal opportunity for advancement,” says Lauren Romansky, Managing Vice President, Gartner.

HR and DEI must address the systemic bias embedded in their systems, processes and stakeholders to truly increase the diversity of their managerial and leadership benches. Gartner has identified three actions HR can take to reset how underrepresented talent is advanced.

1. Fix the manager-employee relationship

Historically, organizations have focused on “fixing” underrepresented talent through formal leadership development programs. To make progress on increasing diversity representation, organizations need to build healthy manager-employee relationships that set the right foundation for advocacy and advancement.

Managers are unable to effectively execute critical advocacy and advancement-related activities if they do not have a solid working relationship with their employees. This can be even more challenging when managers and employees come from different experiences.

To fix the manager-employee relationship:

  • Teach managers how to build personalized support for direct reports while enabling them to be effective talent coaches.
  • Build manager awareness of the employee experience of underrepresented talent.
  • Broker trust between underrepresented talent and their managers.

The most successful organizations go beyond traditional leadership development programs that focus solely on skill building to advance women, LGBT+, or racially and ethnically diverse employees. Instead, they also target managers of program participants to spread awareness of the employee experience of their direct reports, build trust and enable greater manager advocacy.

2. Enable growth-focused networks

Employers have typically viewed networks as support mechanisms for employees and have taken an ad hoc approach. The result is often networks that lack diversity in role, skill, level and experience — with limited involvement of senior leaders.

Growth-focused networks are intentional and self-sustaining, providing an array of diverse individuals in role, skills, level and experience. They also offer exposure to senior leaders who are positioned to support growth and advancement.

When underrepresented talent has diverse networks, the organization wins. Gartner research reveals that in organizations that create networking programs for underrepresented talent, HR leaders are two times more likely to report they are effective at improving organizational inclusion and 1.3 times more likely to report they are effective at increasing diverse employee engagement.

Key actions HR can take to enable growth-focused networks include:

  • Help all employees understand how networking will enable better diversity and inclusion, particularly for underrepresented talent.
  • Authorize underrepresented talent to actively network, and teach managers and leaders how to build and manage networks to help underrepresented talent to perform, develop and advance.
  • Create accountability for networking across underrepresented talent, managers and senior leaders.

3. Redesign talent processes to mitigate bias

Organizations often rely on techniques like raising manager awareness of DEI goals and providing training on unconscious bias and inclusivity to mitigate bias. They less often redesign processes to create opportunities for underrepresented talent. Redesigning processes is often the least-used technique in bias mitigation because DEI doesn’t own talent processes, and it requires a significant change effort. However, it can be one of the most effective.

To fully embed inclusion and provide fair consideration to underrepresented talent for advancement:  

  • Challenge hiring managers on need-to-have versus nice-to-have requirements.
  • Expand labor market opportunities to consider adjacent and nontraditional talent pools.
  • Update definitions of potential for relevance as market conditions and business needs evolve.
  • Explore job design to accommodate diverse talent with varying needs and preferences.
  • Rethink how performance is evaluated, including who provides feedback and how productivity is defined, and hold leaders accountable for balanced evaluation of candidates and successors.
  • Change internal hiring methods.

“COVID-19 and the transition to remote work has created an opportunity for organizations to address their current DEI goals and the strategies and tactics in place to meet them,” says Ingrid Laman, Vice President, Advisory, Gartner. 

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