Marginalized groups often lack equal access to training. Here's a three-step plan for HR to create an equitable training and development program.
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Most workers are aware that their industries are continually evolving—some, such as tech, more rapidly than others. To stay desirable in the marketplace, employees must acquire new skill sets as their careers progress—and they expect their employers to prioritize the training and development necessary for their growth.
One report found that 86 percent of employees would change jobs for a company with better professional development opportunities. Other research has found that employees who get sufficient training opportunities have a 34 percent higher retention rate than those who do not. Younger employees put an even higher stake on training. Nearly 90 percent of Millennials cite access to professional development or career growth as important in their choice of employers.
Clearly, providing staff valuable learning and advancement opportunities can be a significant differentiator among companies competing for the same talent pools.
But research shows training and professional development are not extended to everyone equally. Employees who are not "plugged in" to available opportunities can't take advantage of them. When workers are not connected to the people and networks that can guide them, they risk treading water rather than moving upstream in their careers.
For example, women often lack the same networking opportunities that are available to men, and people of color may not see themselves reflected in the positions above them, depriving them of valuable mentors. When employees don't see opportunities to progress, they leave in search of other employers that will give them the tools they need to grow.
Development for All
When forming strategies to decrease attrition, HR executives should view skills development through a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) lens to recognize and address any equality shortfalls within their training and promotion efforts. This is particularly valued by newer generations of workers, given that Millennials and Generation Z are the most diverse generations in U.S. history. Research reveals that 60 percent of Millennials expect their employer to demonstrate commitment to DE&I.
Successful companies have learned that ensuring equitable training and skills development across their organizations can counter the impact of conscious and unconscious bias in the workplace by extending more opportunities to traditionally overlooked groups. Of course, additional skills training doesn't magically remedy generations of skills inequity among employees who are part of historically marginalized groups. But when HR leaders focus less on the skills themselves and more on the people developing the skills, they invest in the long-term success of their employees—and their companies.
Building an equitable training and development program takes a lot of thought and planning. But framing it around these three simple steps can help:
Step 1: Analyze Your Inequalities
HR executives should first uncover their organization's current trends in staff development. Ideally, they should work with their DE&I leaders to identify inequities in development investment, including by demographic. If your organization doesn't have DE&I staff, HR leadership should take the helm. If possible, consider hiring a DE&I consultant to offer an unbiased view of your organization's development initiatives and determine where they fall short.
Deanna Kimbrel, chief diversity officer and director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion for New York's Monroe County, suggests asking the following questions when analyzing your development investments:
One common challenge HR executives encounter at this stage is a lack of relevant internal data. "People are often unaware of developmental trends because they haven't implemented the right technology that will allow them to track those things," Kimbrel says. "It's important to have the right tech in place because it allows you to track consistently." Some of the software solutions that can help companies gather data about their employees' skills development include:
While the specifics of an ideal HR tech stack may vary based on the organization, having the right tools in place provides the necessary data to identify gaps in existing skills programs. If your organization has invested in more advanced people analytics capabilities, adding this data will give further insight into your skills development efforts and how they overlap with your DE&I initiatives, such as whether employees of certain demographics quit sooner or fail to advance at equal rates within your workforce.
Once you have determined where your inequities lie, the next step is intervening to increase equity—and decrease bias—within your developmental programs.
Step 2: Implement Equitable Strategies
HR executives should create a talent development strategy based on their research and data by taking the following steps to ensure equitable skills development and training.
Also consider the channels you use to distribute information. For example, you might communicate key training information over e-mail, but that information should also live in an employee intranet where workers can access it any time. Likewise, consider how employees who have been on leave— such as parental, sabbatical or short-term disability—can access this information when they return to work.
Step 3: Unite the C-suite Through Accountability
After putting equitable strategies in place, HR leaders should track employee progress and share it with their executive team on at least a quarterly basis. "If you're only sharing progress once a year, as many organizations do, it's too late," Kimbrel says. "By then, too much time has passed, and you don't have enough time to adjust something that may be missing." Share your goals and progress with your entire organization at least annually. If you don't already, consider publishing an annual DE&I report that includes your upskilling strategies and results.
Accountability—especially at the leadership level—is essential for creating successful skills development programs. Engage your fellow leaders in conversations about types of bias in the workplace and how skills development and DE&I intersect. For even stronger accountability, Kimbrel suggests making equitable development goals a competency for leaders.
"Leaders are critical to the development of employees and those of marginalized backgrounds, and that development should be a leadership competency to add a level of accountability," Kimbrel says. "Equitable skills training creates loyalty within an organization because employees feel that the company is truly interested in their growth and development."
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