Talent and workforce planning are no doubt standard chapters in every HR and organizational development textbook. Being able to get the right people in the right seats with the right skills at the right time is the task and dream of many talent acquisition, talent development and HR leaders. And in a world where skills have a shorter shelf life than ever, it can be increasingly difficult to bring this dream to life. Talent leaders are faced with a complex game of musical chairs, only in this version, there are more chairs than people. When the music stops, your company needs people in your seats and not your competitor’s.
At the same time, there is a wave of businesses that recognize the value of diverse and inclusive workforces, coupled with a bit of a panic about how far behind they may be in diversifying their teams in power. Research from Deloitte shows that companies with inclusive talent practices generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee and great profitability than other competing companies.
Diversity and inclusion efforts have become urgent business imperatives. The smartest companies are designing D&I into every people initiative – from talent acquisition, retention and promotion, to career development and leadership development. These companies are realizing that by creating inclusive environments, they can solve problems in new ways with fresh thinking, making them more agile and prepared to adjust to the changes in their industries.
talent discovery begins with the many, not the few
Companies are beginning to blend inclusion initiatives with their workforce planning to increase their ability to plan for future workforce needs. Identifying talent for select development processes is no longer enough to fulfill the reskilling and upskilling needed in the next few years. In the past, organizations typically provided only high potentials with access to development tools. It made sense at the time: Focus efforts on people who are the top performers with the most potential. Later, we realized how wrought with bias most talent identification processes are. The generations of HiPo talent being identified looked like, acted like and went to the same MBA schools as those in power. One group was elevated, while many other talented individuals were overlooked.
Angela Hood, founder of ThisWay Global, says that internal talent is often overlooked for promotion, mainly because of bias.
“Human bias is an unavoidable aspect of our very important survival mechanism,” Angela says. “Oftentimes people confuse bias with discrimination, and while they can affect one another, they are not the same thing. Over the past two years, we have monitored bias inside companies of all sizes and in a wide range of industries. In most cases, more than 38% of qualified, internal talent is overlooked for open roles. These roles include both lateral moves and advancements inside the organization.”
Angela’s company recognizes that human biases in internal talent selection, like ageism and gaps in employment due to family caregiving, can prevent good candidates from being considered by the humans doing the hiring. Her team has taken these biases into account in developing an algorithm that strives to mitigate this bias with data, helping to even the playing field in internal hiring. The ideal outcome is more qualified internal candidates are considered and surfaced for internal roles.
using technology to remove bias
Adding AI to your internal recruitment processes to reduce bias in the data is one solution. Another approach is to provide access to development tools for all employees, not just the high potentials. With the growth of scalable, online career development programs, it’s more affordable now to include everybody in development learning. When all are included, the organization can begin to see talent emerge from unexpected places. Hidden gems with skill sets previously unknown to the organization begin to emerge. Work gets done faster because all employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, including all skills and talents, whether those apply to their job descriptions or not. Work becomes more meaningful; employees feel valued and they, in turn, become more passionate and engaged.
Creating fairness in data and providing equal access to opportunities are great places to start, but it’s important not to confuse an equal approach with an equitable one. According to Jennifer Brown, author of Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workforce & The Will to Change and How to be an Inclusive Leader, democratizing access to learning may not be enough. Jennifer says that, depending on their representation and support in the workplace, some employees will more often ‘fall out’ of the process of development when simply given the access to tools without additional understanding of, for example, the purpose of those tools and the roadmaps to be followed in using them.
Under-represented identities in the workplace sometimes are not privy to the ‘real’ or unofficial paths of career progression, and lack examples of those who’ve navigated them successfully. They are also met with different reactions when applying those tools to get ahead. Equipping everyone with the same tools while their context for career guidance, goals and understanding of how things actually work differ may leave some further behind. Simply put, the development process may feel more straightforward for those who don’t experience unconscious bias and microaggressions every day, or who struggle more greatly to bring their full selves to work.
Thus, while providing access to learning tools for everybody is a great start, Jennifer also recommends companies encourage more intentional, formalized sponsorship and mentorship of individuals – especially those in under-represented demographics – to help them move throughout the organization. Her research finds that sponsorship – the sharing of professional capital and reputational assets – is the number one factor in the success of under-represented people in the workplace. When an employee finds someone who can speak to their abilities when the person is not in the room, offer perspective on and advocacy of the employee, and vouch for that employee’s potential and performance, they have a much better chance of long-term success in the company.
By taking advantage of new AI tools to help level the playing field, democratizing access to learning tools and adding sponsorship, companies can create an internal career environment that is inclusive and fair. This will allow people with previously unknown or hidden skills to emerge and apply skills in new ways because they see the organization values everything they bring. When employees feel cared for, they tend to have higher employee engagement and, in turn, contribute more to the organization.
As it becomes harder to find talent outside the organization, the smartest companies are solving these talent challenges by better knowing, understanding and offering opportunities to their internal talent. In return, employees give it their all, making their companies not only great places to work, but great organizations with whom to do business.
Editor’s note: Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar on this topic, “Inclusion as a Solution to Unpredictable Future Talent Needs” on March 12 at 11 a.m. PST featuring Jeanne Schad and Jennifer Brown. Details and registration coming soon.