• Sep 09 2021

Why We Need Development Equity to Improve Leadership Diversity

Numerous studies have shown that diverse organizations are more innovative and attract and retain talent with broader capabilities. Time and again organizations have acknowledged this, but many still lag in improving representation within their company walls. What’s happening between the intent and the lack of appreciable progress?

Part of the reason is what organizations prioritize–acquisition over development–particularly when trying to achieve more diversity in leadership roles. Leadership development done well can empower people to transition from individual contributors or junior-level leaders into more senior positions. But when an organization fails to provide equitable access to high-quality development opportunities, it does a disservice to underrepresented employee groups and to itself.

In the wake of an unprecedented number of women leaving the workforce in 2020 there are fears of regression in the progress that has been made. And in the wake of last year’s promises in response to social justice activism, expectations about putting action to words have also accelerated. Investing in the development of existing talent would seem to be a critical factor not only in building the leaders an organization needs in a highly competitive recruitment market, but in demonstrating a culture committed to supporting DE&I.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t recognize the disparity in who gets tapped for L&D opportunities, offered high-profile stretch projects or sponsored for leadership succession. This lack of  “development equity,” which we define as equitable access for underrepresented minorities and women to formalized career-enhancing development opportunities, is stalling the potential of employees and their organizations.

Putting Development Equity Planning into Action

ExecOnline has been fortunate enough to partner with progressive organizations that want to ensure that the development equity concept becomes a powerful tool for improving leadership diversity outcomes across the corporate landscape. Our resulting Development Equity Council, composed of senior-level HR professionals, is committed to democratizing access to learning experiences and developing a blueprint for all enterprises to invest in their people for equitable and sustainable growth.

As facilitators of the Council process, we are pleased to hear so many senior industry voices in chorus with our own. It’s an important first step. We’ve seen time and time again, however, that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed. So, we’ve identified three key components of development equity that are key to meeting leadership diversity goals:

  • Benchmarking Much of the progress in closing the gender pay gap is attributed to organizations holding themselves accountable by tracking data and benchmarking. To do the same for development equity, organizations should take the time to build their own data capability or find L&D partners who build measurement into their solutions.
  • Nomination and selection processes. A Corporate Research Forum study found 73% of organizations base selections for advancement opportunities on a single subjective nomination. To increase objectivity and equity, organizations should map their own processes and identify areas where subjectivity plays a role.
  • Program structure. Not only should L&D experiences be easily applicable to real-life scenarios, they should provide opportunities for structured visibility in the organization. ExecOnline’s applied learning structure provides the kind of exposure that participants can leverage into upward career mobility.

C-suite level executives are beginning to recognize that leadership development and talent strategy are not just tactical functions–they’re business drivers. Organizations that get this investment right create a long-term competitive advantage. They will be the employers of choice who are able to leverage their talent to win both now and well into the future.

Learn more about how development equity is the key to diversifying leadership in the latest Forbes article written by our Founder & CEO, Stephen Bailey.

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