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Are You Developing Diverse Talent?

November 07, 2022 Learning and Development
mary slaughter
By Mary Slaughter LinkedIn

Whenever I talk with organizations about their desire for more diverse talent, I’m always struck by the same storyline:

We’re pretty good at hiring diverse talent, but our overall representation numbers barely change.

Current day diversity, equity and inclusion work is less about attracting diverse talent and much more about getting them to stay. About five years ago when I was in consulting, I was facilitating a client focus group comprised of people of color. I was struck by the quote one early career professional shared with the group — I appreciated the amazing courage in his words:

I will not be used as your social media bait any longer.

It took a while to unpack and truly appreciate what he meant, but it stuck with me in a profound way. Here’s the “translation” since you weren’t there. He wanted us to know that hiring him wasn’t good enough and definitely not the end game. He felt it was actually insulting (and purely self-serving) to hire him with no intention of developing him. He didn’t take the job to help the firm attract more diverse talent. He accepted the job to grow his own career.

Ways to Amplify Diverse Talent

Developing diverse talent is simple and hard all at the same time. Simple in that there are a few clear things we can do to amplify diverse talent within an organization. Hard in that existing habits and processes have to change. If you get the chance to impact your talent development practices, try some combination of the following:

  1. Take the long view. Move diverse talent into roles for the purpose of development and exposure, not just performance. Some of the best leadership lessons happen when given the opportunity to experiment and safely fail. (If you’re not familiar with Growth Mindset, read Dr. Carol Dweck’s work. It will change your view of talent development forever.)
  2. Assign sponsors and mean it. Sponsors provide air cover for talent when they are not present or when leaders who don’t know them are dismissive of them, simply because they are not on their radar. Sponsors advocate for talent and create space for their visibility and performance.
  3. Look beyond the usual suspects. Time and time again we fall victim to either a safety bias or an expedience bias when we select talent. Underrepresented talent is regularly overlooked for “special projects” where accelerated development and executive exposure really happens. In one consulting engagement, we found that the men were given developmental assignments at a rate seven times that of their female counterparts. The net result? Those individuals who were given the special projects far outpaced others in their readiness to take on more challenging and complex roles. In reality, they were indeed “ready now” because they had been afforded the opportunity to grow and excel.
  4. Lean into the discomfort. The organizational research shows that diverse teams are more uncomfortable yet simultaneously more productive. If your talent review and succession planning conversations are comfortable, that’s a red-hot warning sign that something is amiss. Talent professionals have to lead the conversations and name the disconnects they see, backed by data. Our reluctance (and sometime inability) to be specific about the presenting issues makes it impossible for new processes and habits to emerge.
  5. Reframe your definition of risk. Similarity bias tricks our brains into thinking that people who are different from us as are more threatening, more risky. While similarity bias makes us feel more comfortable, it works in direct opposition to promoting diversity. The risk organizations face is not diversity — it’s sameness.

Related Article: Are Employee Surveys Masking Flaws in Your DEI Efforts?

Angela Navarro
Angela Navarro is the CEO of Catalyte Leadership Acceleration. She has dedicated her entire career to accelerating performance – of leaders, clients and firms. 

Women in the U.S. have been earning bachelor’s degrees at a pace that far exceeds their male counterparts for over three decades. But of the S&P 500 companies, only 30 have a female CEO. That breaks down to a mere 6% representation by women in positions of top corporate leadership. And while 29 of these companies demonstrate 60% or greater women and minority representation on their boards, no companies in the Fortune 500 are representative of the demographics of the United States, with the benchmarks of 50% women, 13% African American/Black, 18% Hispanic/Latino(a) and 6% Asian/Pacific Islander per the U.S Census Bureau, Population Estimates Quick Facts (July 2019).

The pathway from college degree to executive leadership is paved with many intermediary steps — mentorships and sponsorships, stretch assignments and leadership development opportunities. However, historically marginalized groups typically don’t have the same access and exposure to these opportunities. To counter this shortcoming and its disastrous effects on the diversity of our talent pipeline, firms must be more intentional about cultivating leadership talent throughout their leadership journeys, especially talent that looks different from the current leadership profile. This shift requires a growth mindset and openness to transformation. For example, we should stop our search to find a "culture fit," and instead determine how diverse talent can make a culture contribution to the future state. The onus is on those with power to allocate the resources and design the support systems to create meaningful pathways into executive leadership.

About the Author

Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.

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