Viewpoint: How to Break Through the ‘Mobility Ceiling’

Include women and minorities in your international and leadership assignments

By William Tincup January 10, 2019
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​You can't be shocked if your leadership team is mostly salt-and-pepper-haired, middle-age white guys. With our country's history of racism and misogyny, we have failed the minority and female employees who want to move up in our companies. They've been blocked by the "mobility ceiling."   

The mobility ceiling is an invisible yet recognizable force that allows white men to move freely within the organization—both domestically and internationally—yet hinders women and people of color from the same mobility. It's invisible because we don't talk about it, but neither do we try to break it. The outcomes are as obvious as our predominantly white male leadership teams. To be fair, some white men have deserved the mobility afforded them, but some have been promoted over minority or female employees who were more deserving.

International assignments are the building blocks of executive leadership. Do you know any CEO of a large company who has made it to that level without an international tour of duty? Most likely, you do not.

And internal mobility—moving up and through the organization—is just as important. Younger candidates today are asking your recruiters, "What's next?" If your recruiters can't tell them where they will go on their career path through your organization, then they will move on―poof!

So think about what's next. What's next for each of your employees? What do the employees want, what does the company need and how do you square these while also being inclusive? Race and gender are important, but we should think of them as spokes in a much larger wheel of inclusion. One of the goals of inclusion is for our leadership teams to look like our employees, customers and society in general.

Here's how we start to break through the mobility ceiling:

  • We need to acknowledge as an organization that we haven't been fair in our approach to mobility. We're part of the problem, and we must recognize that our approach to mobility needs to be more inclusive.
  • We have to chase mobility inclusion like we chase profit. We know how important profit is. Being inclusive in the way we hire, promote and offer mobility is just as important. We need to rigorously select folks for internal promotions and international opportunities, asking ourselves along the way, "Are we being inclusive?"
  • We need to relentlessly ask employees about mobility and not assume anything. This is a basic form of professional respect. Some of the mobility ceiling exists because people assumed, "She wouldn't want to take the post in Brazil. I think they're planning to have kids soon." Just ask. Let the talented employee help you determine if internal and international opportunities make sense for her and the company.

William Tincup is an industry thought leader, HR technology expert and the president of media company RecruitingDaily.

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