Building a More Inclusive Leadership Pipeline

Building a More Inclusive Leadership Pipeline

March 22, 2021

By Gene Park
Inclusive leadership can be a competitive advantage that helps organizations succeed. Not only does a diverse and inclusive work environment build team culture, it also attracts and retains talented employees who remain engaged and are likely to continue advancing their careers within your organization. Diverse and inclusive leadership can have a major influence on inclusive behaviors and dynamics among employees. But it’s equally as advantageous for an organization’s bottom line.

Inclusive leadership can be a competitive advantage that helps organizations succeed. Not only does a diverse and inclusive work environment build team culture, it also attracts and retains talented employees who remain engaged and likely to continue advancing their career within your organization.

Diverse and inclusive leadership can have a major influence on inclusive behaviors and dynamics among employees. But it’s equally as advantageous for an organization’s bottom line:

Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovators

Companies with more diverse management have 19% higher revenues

Many organizations are beginning to see the impact and benefits of a diverse, multigenerational workforce with perspectives that ultimately strengthen their business, but there is still progress that needs to be made.

Research by McKinsey finds that often, diversity within the leadership pipeline begins to shift at the managerial level. Among entry-level employees, on average, women comprise 48 percent of the workforce (30 percent white women and 18 percent women of color), but only 39 percent advance to the managerial level (27 percent of white women and 12 percent women of color). McKinsey finds that for men of color, the leadership pipeline starts to slow down at the vice president and senior vice president levels. Among entry-level employees, on average, men of color comprise 16 percent of the workforce, whereas they comprise 11 percent and 9 percent of vice president and senior vice president roles, respectively.

McKinsey’s research indicates that a commitment to a diverse workforce and leadership needs to be found throughout an organization, especially in terms of creating opportunities at the managerial level.

Companies can begin to build more diversity into their leadership through creating a strong team culture of recognition and building leadership opportunities through learning, mentorship and sponsorship.

Creating a Culture of Belonging

A work environment where employees feel a sense of belonging and purpose creates an engaged workforce that is likely to stay for the long-term.

According to Salesforce’s report, “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business,”:

Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Employees who feel their organization provides equal opportunity are 3.8 times more likely to say they are proud to work for their company.

Conversely, when employees feel that they are not recognized for their work, they are 2 times as likely to quit their current role within the next year.

Building a culture of recognition throughout your organization — not only from managers and leadership — reinforces a sense of belonging and purpose among your workforce, and is one of the reasons why team building is important. It also allows your workforce to build connections across other departments, which will be key for employees with leadership potential.

Peer recognition also empowers employees to speak up and share recognition with their team. This can ultimately create rapport that empowers employees to share their perspectives and experiences that can lead to greater productivity, innovation and stronger decision-making throughout the organization.

Peer recognition can be a strong primer that not only prepares employees in cultivating both strong leadership and recognition skills, it also creates an environment that they want to contribute to for years to come.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can also be a great resource to connect employees and foster inclusion within an organization. ERGs are often formed to allow employees with a common identity (racial background, gender, orientation, age, etc.) to meet fellow coworkers and network and support one another through an open forum. Employees can connect with colleagues across an organization, discuss professional advancement and facilitate communications with an organization’s leadership that allows strength in numbers.

ERGs can foster a sense of inclusivity and belonging that can also bolster talent acquisition and retention as well as showcase an organization’s commitment to diversity and career advancement.

Building Learning Opportunities

Organizations that provide employees with opportunities to continue learning and advancing their careers, will more likely retain a diverse workforce that is engaged and motivated to grow within the organization. In fact, 94 percent
of employees would remain with a company that’s committed to helping them learn, according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report.

Growth and learning opportunities can encompass everything from:

  • Providing training on specific software
  • Allowing employees to attend workshops or obtain certifications related to their role
  • Creating stretch assignments

Leadership opportunities can encompass the examples above, but can also go beyond this to include training opportunities across different aspects of the business, or stretch roles that would address a leadership challenge that an individual faces, such as assigning a turnaround project for an individual with a history of managing a high-performing team.

“I have been mentored — and continue to be mentored — because it helps to get another view from someone who has been down that road and has seen it all. They can help me avoid pitfalls, get perspective, and see the long game — not what is just in front of me. We need other perspectives and ideas, because we live in a diverse world, so we must mirror the larger society so that we can serve it better. But it has to be a choice — we don’t stumble into diversity; it has to be intentional.”
— Inspirus Director of Infrastructure, Dale Thompson

Developing Inroads for Professional Advancement

Creating opportunities for employees to be mentored and sponsored by more senior-ranking colleagues is also crucial for developing a diverse pipeline of employees with leadership potential.

However, to ensure that all talent has access to opportunities and is being recognized for skills and advancement potential, organizations must address unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a disposition that is formed without an individual’s awareness. Unconscious bias is shaped by an individual’s personal experiences, upbringing and environment. Every individual carries a form of unconscious bias, and it can lead us to hire, promote, sponsor or mentor employees similar to ourselves. This ultimately creates homogeny in leadership circles and thwarts a diverse talent pipeline.

Whether organizations already have diversity and inclusion initiatives in place or are still working towards implementation, leadership and management teams should examine what role unconscious bias may play in how employees advance within their organization. Consider implementing multiple training sessions to help employees understand the role of unconscious bias, and become more mindful of its impact on their decision-making process and its effect on company initiatives.

“The first step in creating a diverse, multigenerational workforce is to mirror the demographics of the city your organization is in. If you can do that, then you will have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from as advancement opportunities come up. During the internal hiring process, focus on the individual’s performance and work ethic, in addition to experience and education, to account for different social/economic backgrounds. This allows you to select the individual who is best suited to handle the job, not just the person who is most qualified. By doing this, organizations will have a diverse workforce and accomplish this naturally, versus setting quotas.”
— Inspirus Systems Analyst, Raul Gonzalez

Mentorship vs. Sponsorship: What’s the Difference?

While both mentorship and sponsorship programs are a catalyst in creating advancement opportunities for employees, each serves a different purpose. Mentorship programs can allow any experienced employee to share their knowledge and guide co-workers in career development. Sponsorship programs are more focused on senior leaders advocating for an employee by creating inroads for advancement and promotion within the organization.

Mentorship programs can not only help to identify employees with leadership potential, but also provide a space where a diverse workplace can learn from one another’s unique perspectives and connect in ways that allow employees to grow both professionally and personally. Mentorship opportunities can also make people more content at work. Ninety-one percent of employees who have a mentor report being satisfied with their jobs according to a CNBC/Survey Monkey Workplace Happiness Survey. While mentorship programs don’t lead directly to advancement within an organization, they still play an important role. Mentees can build a strong professional support system as their careers progress and mentors have opportunities to share their experience and wisdom.

Sponsorship programs are also a key component to creating a diverse leadership pipeline, as it provides employees with a path for advancement. While sponsors may offer an up-and-coming leader career advice, they are also an influential connector who can recommend individuals for challenging projects, new roles or promotions, as well as advocate for them if there is resistance.

“You have to be willing to take risks and take time to develop others that do not look, speak, worship or live like you. Employers have to create a supportive environment, provide tools and opportunities for mentorship, and then promote the program and it’s benefits.”
— Inspirus Director of Fulfillment & Production Operations, Gabriel Cobos.

Setting Achievable Goals and Objectives

For diverse leadership teams to take shape within an organization, inclusivity, learning opportunities and inroads for professional advancement set a strong foundation. But the one element that brings this all together is the support and commitment of senior leadership.

One way to make sure all stakeholders agree upon and stay focused on a larger mission of creating a diverse leadership team is by setting an attainable goal that can be achieved through concerted actions within a specific timeframe. For example, to enable gender-balanced leadership, Sodexo is committed to creating an environment and advancement opportunities that ensure senior executive teams are at least 40 percent
female by 2025.

Creating advancement opportunities that build more diverse management and leadership teams within companies is an ongoing and intensive process. It often involves gaining buy-in throughout the organization, developing initiatives that lead to effective change, addressing challenges and having tough conversations. There may be times when the process feels daunting, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not achievable. When we all take actionable steps to build stronger diversity and inclusion initiatives and advancement opportunities throughout an organization, it creates an environment where everyone feels they belong and can build meaningful careers.

“Employers should create an open atmosphere of collaboration and trust so that diversity and advancement become a seamless part of an organization’s culture. When you are creating opportunity for connections, this drives diversity and inclusion, which drives culture and new advancement opportunities.”
— Inspirus Strategic Account Management Director Lisa Muniz