HR Organizations Must Develop Career Paths That Advance Underrepresented Talent to Increase Diversity Among Leadership Benches

Despite deliberate effort to increase diversity, organizations continue to struggle with achieving diverse leadership benches, according to Gartner, Inc. To increase diversity in leadership, HR must ensure greater diversity in the leadership pipeline and successor talent pools.

A recent Gartner survey reveals that nearly two-thirds of talent management leaders characterize their organizations’ successors as 0-10% racially or ethnically diverse. Furthermore, 69% of talent management leaders report their organizations’ successors as 0%-10% women from diverse and racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Gartner analysts are discussing talent issues and the challenges critical to all HR executives as they reimagine the future of work at the Gartner ReimagineHR conference, taking place virtually in the Americas and EMEA.

“Since 2018, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has become the number one talent priority for CEOs, yet an April 2020 Gartner survey found that nearly 90% of HR leaders feel their organization has been ineffective or flat at increasing diversity representation,” said Ania Krasniewska, practice vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

To increase the diversity of leadership benches, HR must work with senior business leaders across the organization on three strategies:

  1. Shifting Ownership
  2. Minimizing the “Only’s”
  3. Mitigating Bias

More Than Mentoring

Many organizations try to advance underrepresented talent via formal mentoring programs. While mentoring is important and should be part of the solution, it cannot be the only approach as it puts all the onus on the employee. Instead of building programs to “fix” the talent in question, organizations should work to fix their systems instead.

“Many mentorship programs rely on employees to volunteer, both to be mentored and to be mentors. Unfortunately this can place an undue burden on both parties,” said Ms. Krasniewska.

Progressive organizations are going beyond relying on a small group of volunteers and are working directly with an employee’s manager and skip level manager, each with different roles and responsibilities that are in line with what they can deliver. This enables employees to grow their network and increase their senior level exposure, while avoiding placing everything on their direct manager. Responsibility for development is shared across the parties, all accountable to each other and to the organization.

Increasing Representation

It can be tempting for an organization to celebrate when they successfully advance underrepresented talent. However, if an employee from a particular demographic group is the only one represented, the experience can be isolating. In addition, when a candidate is “an only,” employers can inadvertently create systems that put more weight on their shoulders to simultaneously stand out as well as represent their entire categories disproportionately.

“Broadening existing talent pools requires HR and other business leaders to think differently, source differently and act differently,” added Ms. Krasniewska. “Employers need to be acutely aware of the systems that prevent their candidates from being successful.”

In many instances, organizations will need to force an intentional shift in their thinking to surface underrepresented talent beyond traditional means. After surfacing talent, HR must ensure their future systems can identify potential successors and support them through networks and development.

Talent Processes Are Opportunities

Nearly every talent process provides an opportunity for organizations to audit their systems and determine where they are opening the door to bias. A 2019 Gartner survey revealed that 88% of DEI leaders perceived bias in their organizations’ promotions and/or succession processes. Seventy-eight percent of DEI leaders believed that their recruiting and performance management systems were biased.

To tackle bias within their succession processes, leading organizations are changing how they define who in the organization has the potential to be a successor. For instance, some organizations are encouraging leaders to presume everyone is eligible for promotion and to discuss why a nominated employee is not ready, rather than presuming they are not ready and pushing for advancement. Other employers are re-engineering their succession process to focus on the role rather than the person.

“What we see is that often in planning for a particular person’s successor, the default is for leaders to think of an individual most like that particular person,” said Ms. Krasniewska. “In most cases, replacing like with like makes it difficult to diversify their successor pools.”

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