The ‘7 A’s of equity’: Analyzing your talent development strategy for equitable impact
If companies want to get serious about their DE&I efforts, recognizing that racial inequities are inherent and systemic to employer strategies like talent development is crucial. It’s an issue I’ve written about before, and it’s important to understand how many of the L&D learning systems, programs, and resources companies put in place shut out frontline workers and especially people of color.
In the graph below, for example, Guild 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, and $0.68 cents is spent on a Latinx employee’s training.
It doesn’t take much to see that this has unintended consequences. Research shows that companies that foster more diversity, equity, and inclusivity are more innovative, have higher retention rates, and are generally more successful. But acknowledging the problem is one thing — doing something about it is another.
So how do you start developing talent while making sure it’s 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, because equity is actually a differential investment that leads to equal outcomes. By using your talent development strategies, processes, and tools, however, you can create equity and accelerate opportunities for underrepresented populations.
Guild’s Employer Solutions team has identified seven key benchmarks to foster this, which leaders should incorporate to ensure that their talent development strategy brings equity to the organization.
1. Access. Make sure that underrepresented groups don’t have policy, administrative, or programmatic barriers to enrolling in development opportunities. The programs also need to accommodate access from adult working learners who have families and community responsibilities. This especially requires eliminating much of the exempt vs. non-exempt divide.
2. Alignment. Talent development programs should focus on skills that are useful and enduring for the future of work. Specifically, 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. Employees from underrepresented talent demographics are less likely to have access to free capital to develop themselves. Programs structured with full funding from employers create the most lift for those without access on their own. One Guild employer partner, for example, saw a 100% increase in black students, 187% increase in LatinX students, and 216% increase in Asian students when it switched a number of its upskilling programs to a fully-funded model, rather than obliging learners to pick up part of the tab.
5. Assistance. Underrepresented talent looks for mentors, sponsors, and coaches. They want guidance on what programs to apply to and complete, 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.
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 is in, what the outcomes are, and what impact is being had, 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. The programs also need to have sponsors in executive roles who are willing to promote the programs and make others aware and let everyone know the program is valued. Programs should be advertised within Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and managers should be expected to support participation.
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.
By leveraging the frameworks outlined in the “seven A’s of equity,” talent development leaders have the opportunity to close the equity gap with the resources and authority they have today.