What’s standing between your organization and the “future of work?” Hint: It’s not just a decision over hybrid or return-to-office structures. It’s a matter of equity.
While it’s good to raise equity concerns about how workplaces will be structured moving forward, lack of visibility is not new. Even when colleagues are sharing the same physical space, some populations are consistently overlooked and underappreciated. Organizations with the courage to face and address their shortcomings in broader equity efforts will position themselves to be the most competitive.
How? Through “development equity”—a concept I defined to reflect the growing demand for greater diversity of thought, capabilities, and experiences in organizations and their leadership. Development equity means equitable access for underrepresented minorities and women to formalized, career-enhancing development opportunities.
It’s no longer a matter of acquiring the talent you want to improve leadership diversity within your organization; the pool of recruits is much smaller than the need. Instead, you need to view and embrace development equity as an investment opportunity that will determine how sustainable your organization’s diversity and equity initiatives will be in the long run.
WHY IS DEVELOPMENT EQUITY IMPORTANT?
Think about how people advance in your organization. Are there objective criteria and review processes for promotions, or are they at the whim of a manager? Do employees have a clearly defined pathway to leadership roles, or are they brought into an inner circle based on proximity?
Studies have shown that more than 70% of sponsors are the same gender or race as their protégés, feeding a catch-22 that hinders leadership diversity. And 73% of organizations base selections for the best development opportunities on a single subjective nomination, not an objective and consistent review of a candidate’s performance. This actively curtails leadership development opportunities for those who don’t have the right connections, negatively affecting their full potential impact on the organization.
That potential impact is key. There are short-term and long-term tangible costs of inequity. Organizations may be focusing on diversifying their leadership and creating inclusive workplaces because it’s the right thing to do, but organizations with diverse leaders are also more profitable. After making significant diversity commitments in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the social justice awareness of 2020, many organizations are finding that intention is not enough.
TAKING MEASURES TO MOVE FORWARD
I often say what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed. Inertia is difficult enough to overcome, but uncovering and addressing uncomfortable realities with your organization won’t happen without some sort of accountability. That’s why the development equity concept includes three key components that you can map to goals that lead to an evolution in how you operate:
1. Benchmarking: How equitably are development opportunities distributed in your organization? Look across multiple categories of identity to see where your organization is now. Establish goals for where you want to be. Prioritize the resources you need to evaluate, plan, and work toward achieving those goals.
2. Nomination and selection processes: When there are no formal procedures to follow, there’s no clear way for people to advocate for others or for themselves. Where are the opportunities to create structure, solicit multiple points of view, and establish goals and milestones for objective consideration?
3. Structure of development programs: Even the best ideas and performance do nothing for your organization when operating in a vacuum. Leadership development programs should provide diverse leaders with opportunities not just to upskill as leaders, but to demonstrate their capabilities in ways that senior leaders and decision-makers can see and support.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge to achieving development equity is recognizing the many areas in an organization where inequities exist. Yet the benefits for holding up a mirror to age-old practices and shaping a new culture are already being seen by some. Organizations are working to create an actionable blueprint for other organizations to follow. I’ve seen this firsthand through my company’s Development Equity Council (members include Abbott, Aflac, Aristocrat and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation), with organizations partnering with us to create the next generation of diverse leaders to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
To succeed in business, we are constantly encountering and evaluating new tools. Although the need for development equity is not new, its use as a tool to drive change can be invaluable. By recognizing areas of improvement within your own organization and developing the framework and metrics to make meaningful progress toward a more diverse and inclusive environment, you’re setting up your organization to thrive in the new landscape of the future of work.
Stephen Bailey is Founder & CEO of ExecOnline, an enterprise platform partnered with top business schools to deliver online leadership development programs.