Three Equity Checkpoints in The Employee Life Cycle

To reach their full potential and the synergies that harness performance results, organizations must think beyond hiring and commit to sustaining efforts throughout the whole employee life cycle. In this article we discuss three checkpoints where employers can work to increase equitable experiences for their workforce.

Hiring for diversity is a leaky bucket if an organization does not invest in supporting, developing, advancing and retaining their diverse talent.

Research shows that companies that rank among the top 25% of racial/ethnic diversity and top 25% of gender diversity are 30% more likely and 15% more likely, respectively, to have financial returns above the national industry median.

But for individuals and organizations to reach their potential and the synergies that harness performance results, your organization must think beyond hiring and commit to sustaining efforts  throughout the employee life cycle. 

Taking the Bias Out of Hiring

The best approach to inclusive hiring is to assume the impact of bias and focus on auditing the process to mitigate and manage that bias. Out of the gates, there are three kinds of bias at play in hiring, and throughout the employee lifecycle. 

Institutional Bias is present in the norms, practices, procedures and policies that provide belonging for the dominant social groups of the workforce while  leaving underrepresented groups on the sidelines. A clear example is preferring advanced degrees when it’s unnecessary for the job function. 

Explicit Bias includes the attitudes, preferences and generalizations towards others we can become more conscious of, often coming down to personal values and beliefs - such as affinity for people similar to you or who you feel comfortable with. An example would be filtering out CVs according to a name the interviewee doesn’t know how to pronounce or preferring Ivy League graduates.

Implicit bias are the attitudes, preferences and generalizations towards others that we are not aware of, or in control of. Everyone has these undetectable shortcut biases as part of our fast, automatic thought processes. As an example, a recent study showed that black women who wear natural hairstyles to an interview were perceived to be less professional, less competent, and less likely to be recommended for a job - relative to black women with straightened hairstyles and white women of any hairstyle. 

Implicit biases are perceptual blindspots that often go against how we consciously think we are or want to be and hinder our ability to assess and evaluate equitably. In short, we cannot count on our best intentions to deliver the best (or intended) outcomes. 

Tech is a strong case example of what happens when exclusion pervades an entire industry culture - women face inclusion hurdles at every step of the tech journey, after being culturally disinvited to the computer science boom back in the 1980’s. 

So it’s relevant that in their 2021 Top Companies for Women Technologists report, Anita B found that companies who focused on de-biasing systems (such as the hiring process) had stronger representations of black women, Latinx women, and 20% more tech women than those companies who only did awareness training on bias.

At the hiring level, mitigating bias before and during the interview process may include (and more):

  • implementing implicit bias training for all involved in hiring
  • sharing job posts that are written in inclusive language and include only evaluative criteria that are strictly necessary 
  • intentionally expanding the talent hunt to new spaces and more diversified pools of candidates with non-traditional backgrounds and trajectories 
  • establishing clear core objective qualifications for high potential candidates
  • focusing on finding the skillset for the job rather than a fixed preconception of the career arc to that skillset (a deeper look at competencies and transferrable skills)
  • being visible in your organizational commitment to inclusion
  • utilizing recruitment technology to filter out initial factors of bias (names, photos, schools) 
  • having multiple interviewers of different backgrounds
  • using applied tests or exercises to evaluate job-relevant competencies rather than only question-based interviews
  • being rigorous in the review of how candidates are being judged, assessed and dismissed or selected in your organization at each phase
  • tracking the patterns of how different demographic groups progress through your candidate pipeline and address any disproportionality

Equally, the onboarding process sets the tone on whether a new employee will feel welcome in your organization. From day one, does a new hire feel they are valued and will be supported to thrive in the organization? Research found that a good onboarding program leads to 69% of employees staying at least three years. 

Developing Your Talent Equitably

The Women in the Workplace Report 2021 illustrates the large gap between getting  an employee into the door and nurturing their talent for upward development. Women were 48% of entry level employees but only 35% of senior managers, and women of color were 17% of entry level employees but only 9% of senior managers. Representation continues to drop as you go up in levels of seniority. 

Research has found that for every $1 spent on white employees formal training, only $.81 is spent on a Black employee’s training and $.68 on a Latinx employee’s training. Black employees are consistently more likely to report they do not have support to advance and see the promotion process as unfair. Black women are less likely to feel valued, treated fairly and respected in the workplace. Also Lean In found that while only 30% of white men felt the lack of an influential mentor had limited their career prospects, 62% of women of color felt that way - and not surprisingly, as they are also far less likely to have substantive interactions with leadership. 

Yet, we know that employees with steady manager support are both more likely to be promoted and to believe they have the same opportunity to be promoted. Once through the door, there’s a big drop-off when it comes to developing diverse talent, and managers are really the gatekeepers for supporting this journey.

The Guild Employers Solutions team identified seven benchmarks for fostering equitable talent strategies when it comes to training: 

  • Access to development opportunities, without enrollment barriers for underrepresented individuals.
  • Alignment between development opportunities and the skills most in demand for career growth in the organization.
  • Agility of programs to offer the skills that will most benefit employees before they are needed, and not only to management first with slow trickle down. 
  • Affordability of development opportunities and upskilling to make them equally accessible to all, ideally fully-funded from employers.
  • Assistance such as mentorship, sponsorship and coaching, which is vital to upward mobility and underrepresented groups consistently report less access to. 
  • Analytics that measure who participates in talent development, what the outcomes are and what the impact is at micro and macro levels. 
  • Activation for program adoption, such as executive sponsorship, targeted at supporting key demographics (through ERGs etc).

Additional aspects of talent management from an inclusion perspective are:

  • proactively identifying bias in the performance review process
  • considering how factors such as different work styles, schedules or lower visibility impact upon subsets of employees being overlooked for opportunities
  • examining whether stretch assignments are being distributed across diverse employee groups
  • evaluating whether pay processes are fair and objective
  • reflecting whether rewards and benefits are biased toward certain subgroups

Retaining Your Talent With An Inclusive Culture

Research shows that retention goes down by 16% among employees who aren’t comfortable giving upward feedback. Employee turnover related to racial inequity has cost businesses $172 billion over the last five years. And as a case example, Google recently reported an attrition index of 121 for black employees (146 for black women) and 105 for Latinx employees in 2021.

Coming back to the importance of gender inclusion in tech, Accenture found that a “more-inclusive culture” that enables everyone’s voice to be heard is the “master key that unlocks opportunities for women who are studying and working in technology.” The pillars of creating a “more-inclusive culture” are “bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment.” 

Among women in tech, an inclusive culture was the top attraction factor (along with role models) and the lack of it was the top reason for leaving. Yet, they found HR professionals consistently undervalued the importance and effectiveness of building a more-inclusive culture. Accenture found that the proportion of women feeling STEM was “not for people like them” dropped from half in less-inclusive work cultures to only 16% in more-inclusive cultures. Women in more-inclusive cultures also had a 61% greater likelihood of advancing to manager positions after the age of 30, and women of color were 77% more likely to do so.

An inclusive culture builds greater employee engagement and fosters retention, because it focuses on all groups feeling equally valued, supported, empowered, able to be authentic and fulfill their potential in the workplace. The tech example shows how this translates to employees’ sense of belonging and to their ability to envision and realize a future growth trajectory in the organization. 

An inclusive culture is actively committed to providing equitable development opportunities to grow and thrive. Collaborating with DEI subject experts like Pulsely to integrate interventions and accountability throughout the journey of hiring, growing and retaining talent can help to identify the hurdles to inclusion, change employees’ experiences, and deliver tangible results for organizations. 

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