DE&I Strategy: 7 Benchmarks for Equitable Talent Development [2022]

If companies want to get serious about their DE&I strategy in 2022, recognizing that racial inequities are inherent and systemic to employer strategies like talent development is crucial. 

I’ve written about racial inequity in L&D programs before on the Chief Learning Officer, and it’s important to understand how many of the existing L&D programs shut out frontline workers – especially people of color.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Guild Education analyzed the impact of investment by education level, and then extrapolated data for race and ethnicity. 

By framing the investment in terms of dollars spent, we see that for every $1 spent on a white employee’s formal training:

  • $0.81 is spent on a Black worker’s training
  • $0.68 is spent on a Latinx employee’s training.

It doesn’t take much to see that this has unintended consequences.

Research of the ROI of DE&I shows that companies who foster diversity, equity, and inclusivity are:

  • More innovative
  • Have higher retention rates
  • Generally more successful

But acknowledging the lack of equal opportunity among different employee populations is one thing — doing something about it is another.

DE&I Strategy: 7 Benchmarks for Equitable Talent Development

So how do you develop talent and make opportunities for growth more accessible for all prospective and current employees? 

As a reminder, equality is having an equal investment in the representation of your employee population. Without intentional investment, though, closing the equity gap is impossible, even if you “achieve” equality.

Here’s why: Equity is actually a differential investment that leads to equal outcomes. 

Guild’s Employer Solutions team has identified seven key benchmarks to foster equitable talent development strategies, along with tools and policies that can help accelerate opportunities for underrepresented populations.

1. Access

First and foremost, you need to make sure that underrepresented groups don’t have policy, administrative, or programmatic barriers to enrolling in development opportunities. 

Some examples of policies that restrict employee access include:

  • Manager approval
  • Lengthy tenure requirements
  • Semester grade minimums
  • Program type
  • … and more

You must also make sure that your programs accommodate working adult learners who have families and community responsibilities. This especially requires eliminating much of the exempt vs. non-exempt divide.

For a deeper dive on this subject, check out our e-book on the hidden ways your education program can be exacerbating inequity.

2. Alignment

Talent development programs should focus on skills that are useful and enduring for the future of work.

For instance, the skills should be in areas of highest demand within the company. Otherwise, the skills employees learn in training will become quickly obsolete.

Popular training programs are great for engagement, but a popular legacy program that’s not aligned to future business strategy and the future of work is detrimental to talent.

3. Agility

Relevant programs should be scaled in the weeks after a skill need is identified. When programs are scaled a year after they’re needed, adoption is low and program relevancy wanes.

Those who already have the skills are also in the best position for opportunities, not those who have the most opportunity to grow and benefit. The age-old “cascading” approach through management, wherein executives and management always get access to new skills first and often months in advance, is guaranteed to produce frontline talent (40% of which are non-white), who arrives too late with the skills they need.

4. Affordability

Not surprisingly, employees from underrepresented talent demographics are less likely to have access to free capital to develop themselves.

In fact, 40% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an emergency expense of $400, let alone front the cost of tuition, books, and other fees.

Programs structured with full funding from employers create the most lift for those without access on their own.

For example, upon converting a number of their upskilling programs to a fully-funded model, one Guild employer partner saw:

  • 100% increase in black participants
  • 187% increase in LatinX participants
  • 216% increase in Asian participants

When employers engage in direct billing between employers and academic providers and don’t oblige learners to pick up part of the tab, they make their programs more accessible to every employee – not just corporate white-collar staff.

5. Assistance

Underrepresented talent looks for mentors, sponsors, and coaches.

They need and want guidance on which programs to apply for, encouragement in the journey, and assistance with landing new opportunities to apply their skills.

Unfortunately, for some populations, like Black women especially, corporate mentorship is hard to come by.

A dedicated team of 1:1 coaches who deeply understand the employer-funded programs being offered – and how those programs align with corporate talent needs – is a fantastic way to drive outcomes from your talent development program.

6. Analytics

As the influential management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

If an organization wants to create equity but does not measure who participates in their talent development program, what the outcomes are, and what impact is being had at both micro and macro levels, it’s unlikely that the company will produce the equitable outcomes it is looking for.

7. Activation

To combat low adoption rates, program marketing (especially the kind that’s targeted towards relevant channels for the desired demographic) is key to driving program participation.

A significant driver of program adoption is executive sponsorship – when the company identifies executives who are willing to promote and vocalize the value of the program.

Additional activation efforts include:

  • Employee marketing campaigns to make sure frontline employees are aware of the benefit and understand how to take advantage of it
  • Advertisement within Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • Active support from managers

Bottom Line: Your DE&I Strategy Must Be Equitable to Make an Impact 

In a statement on racial equity for the Business Roundtable in October 2020, CEO of Walmart Doug McMillan said: 

“The racial inequities that exist for many Black Americans and people of color are real and deeply rooted. These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many, and a broad and diverse group of Americans is demanding change. It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.”

Employers can deliver on increasing the economic mobility of diverse employees – particularly frontline workers – by unlocking opportunity for all employees, making it possible for them to connect the skills they have today with the jobs they want tomorrow, and illuminating a pathway to get there. 

By leveraging the frameworks outlined above, talent development leaders have the opportunity to close the equity gap, while simultaneously improving the ROI of their programs.

Want to see a real world example? Check out how one financial services company made its talent development program more accessible – and realized a higher ROI.


DE&I + ROI Case Study from Guild Education


Written by Matthew Daniel



Principal, Employer Solutions








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