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De-Bias Promotion Processes

Learn how to minimize the influence of subjective evaluation in your promotion process.

Brief Summary

The process of making promotion decisions is susceptible to subjective evaluation; even trained and experienced leaders can be unconsciously influenced by assumptions and stereotypes. Unconscious biases can lead managers and leaders to make certain predictable errors when selecting employees for advancement. The assessment of the “best” person for the job can be influenced more by a person’s similarity to current leaders than their unique skills and competencies. It’s not that the person who advances doesn’t deserve it; it may be that there are deserving employees who are overlooked.


An assumption that the workplace is functioning as a meritocracy prevents a thorough analysis that can reveal unintended bias in the patterns of promotions; while individual decisions can be explained, the patterns of decisions can reveal unconscious bias.


Ensure that your promotion processes have equitable outcomes by addressing these questions:

  • Does your promotion process rely on objective evidence ? Are criteria clear and applied equally?
  • Are time-expired anecdotes and subjective views dominating the discussion?
  • Are career pathways transparent so that all employees know when they are ready for promotion?
  • Are the terms “stretch assignments”  versus “taking a risk on” used differently for different demographic groups?
  • Promotion cohorts: Is the proportional distribution of promotions across demographic groups considered before final decisions are made?
dei progress

Proposed Actions

Foundational Actions

  • Ensure clarity in career pathways so everyone knows what they need to do to progress;  provide mechanisms to request specific feedback/guidance.
  • Publish all job roles widely.
  • Apply de-biasing processes from selection and onboarding to internal promotions.
  • Compare representation and progression rates of high potential staff among majority and underrepresented groups.
  • Require a balanced slate on short lists to ensure greater representation (consider who puts themselves forward and who needs advocacy/encouragement).
  • Review promotions by “batches” and ensure proportional representation of underrepresented groups.

Growing Actions

  • Offer a range of career pathways.
  • Base decisions on objective, measurable competencies and transferable skills rather than subjective views or time in position.
  • Review and debias criteria and competencies for progression to assess if they disadvantage underrepresented groups; prioritize both skills and  behaviors.
  • Track time in position; build programming to close gaps in rates with intentional development (mentorship) and visibility (sponsorship).
  • Apply people analytics to evaluate equity of promotions and career development.

Leading Actions

  • Formal succession planning for senior leadership roles includes a matrix of diverse competencies and attributes; support succession plan with targeted development and follow-up to ensure accountability for promotion-readiness and selection.
  • Analyze whether systemic barriers are impacting who has the visibility, access and  opportunity to become promotion eligible and where sponsorship is needed to ensure equitable support.
  • Design jobs around individuals.
  • Review impact of promotions and processes on pay gap.

Valued Guidance

Implementation Plan

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