Learning Equity Starts With Helping People Find Opportunities
Employee development isn’t equitable or inclusive in many organizations. Employees have to face biased nomination processes, managers who are reluctant to approve learning requests, courses that are only offered in certain languages or in certain time zones, and so on.
But the problems in learning equity start much earlier than with biased nominations or inequitable access. Before people can access learning, they first have to be able to find it.
Finding development opportunities is a challenge in and of itself: When we at RedThread Research surveyed over 500 employees in late 2022, only 54% of respondents said their organization enables them to find relevant development opportunities.
But there’s good news: There’s something you can do to make it easier for everyone in your organization to find out about the development opportunities available to them.
Related Article: Transparency is Key to Making Employee Development Equitable
One Practice, One Big Difference
In our recent report, 3 Keys to Learning Equity, we looked at what high-performing organizations do differently from others when it comes to helping people to find development opportunities. We found that they focus far more than other organizations on one specific thing: Helping people find development opportunities in the course of their day-to-day work.
We found that high-performing organizations were twice as likely than other organizations — 74% vs. 37% — to focus on this specific thing.
That’s not to say helping people find opportunities in the course of daily work is the only thing you can or should do to improve employees’ odds of finding out about development opportunities, but it’s a great place to start.
Why is this one practice so effective with helping people find opportunities? Because it gets around two of the main barriers people tend to bump up against:
- Information about opportunities is hidden in personal or informal networks. Sometimes, info about prime development opportunities — the intro to the right expert, the rotational assignment, the coaching opportunity — is passed by word of mouth. Learning these opportunities exist requires having relationships with the right people.
- Some people have more time and ability to search for opportunities than others. More flexible work schedules or even just easier access to online information means different groups of employees will have different access to opportunities.
Putting information about learning opportunities into the course of daily work makes them public and lifts them out of word-of-mouth networks. It also reduces the time and effort people must spend searching for opportunities. Both of these changes give everyone a more equal chance of finding opportunities relevant to them.
4 Implementation Strategies
In our research, leaders told us about four ways they help people find opportunities in the course of their daily work.
1. Incorporate Info About Opportunities Into Processes That All Employees Go Through.
Most organizations have some common processes that employees participate in, such as onboarding, performance and feedback conversations, required / compliance training or timecard submission.
Within these processes, you can build ways for employees to learn about relevant development opportunities.
Related Article: Building an Inclusive Leadership Pipeline
For example, a small bakery wanted to communicate with all employees clearly and equitably about the opportunities open to them. The HR team designed a robust onboarding calendar that set learning goals for 30, 60 and 90 days on the job. The calendar provided links to learning resources that employees could use as needed to help them work toward those goals.
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2. Put Information About Learning Opportunities Into Your Work Platforms.
Another way to notify employees directly about learning opportunities is to integrate the info into the tech where employees do their work, such as:
- Internet or intranet.
- Chat / messaging tools.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.
- Point-of-sale systems.
- Timecard clocks.
- Machine operating screens.
- Tablets / handheld devices that field or retail workers use for their jobs.
Many learning tech vendors are making it easier to leverage their solutions inside workplace technologies like those listed above. For example, some learning tech vendors offer plugins that let employees search content in a learning platform directly from their internet browsers. Others make automatic learning recommendations in Teams or Slack based on people’s skills and interests. Still others offer job aids and other resources directly on machine control panels and other work tech.
A word of caution, though: Leaders warned against creating pop-ups that are annoying or that distract people from their work. Instead, they suggested experimenting to find what works for employees — making it easy but not distracting for them to see what opportunities are available.
3. Put Information About Learning Opportunities Where Your Employees Physically Are.
As more people work remotely, putting up a poster in a break room to advertise an opportunity may not seem particularly useful. But physical spaces are still — and will continue to be — one avenue to get the word out about opportunities. They’re a particularly useful avenue for deskless employees — such as workers in hospitality, manufacturing, healthcare and other sectors — who comprise a huge portion of the workforce and must be physically present to do their jobs.
For example, one leader shared that in his organization — a printing company with large manufacturing plants — he wanted to give employees a clear sense of all the career paths available to them. He noticed that at one plant, there was a 200-foot-long blank wall. He papered over the wall and outlined career paths using paper, glue and string.
For remote or hybrid employees, leaders suggested sharing information about opportunities at times when people do come together in person. For example, there might be ways to share opportunities during team or company offsites.
4. Equip and Support Managers to Discuss Opportunities as Part of Regular Meeting Agendas.
Many employees rely on supervisor recommendations to find out about development opportunities. Incorporating development discussions into regular team or 1-to-1 meeting agendas can help make time and space for these recommendations.
But managers need support to make development conversations a part of their regular meeting agendas. Some organizations are providing managers with templates, tools, nudges and reminders, peer support, coaching and more to help managers have more, and more successful, development conversations.
Many leaders are also thinking about how to remove other tasks from managers’ plates to free up time and energy for them to have those development conversations. For example, one organization we talked to noticed that first-level managers in a mining facility were spending hours per month filling out timecards for direct reports who didn’t have access to the time clock software. The organization is considering shifting that responsibility away from managers so they can focus on other priorities, like development.
Enabling people to find development opportunities in the course of their daily work is one of the first and best places to start if you’re looking to make learning more equitable and inclusive in your organization. We hope these ideas give you a concrete, practical and targeted starting point for your efforts.
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