Managing talent the D&I way
By Annie Makoff on 19 July 2021
Talent management programmes have come a long way since the term was first coined by McKinsey in 1997. Back then, they tended to focus solely on ‘high performers’, but ended up alienating a wealth of untapped talent, particularly from marginalised or minority groups due to unconscious bias.
Black and minority ethnic groups are are both less likely to participate in and then less likely to progress through the workplace, when compared with white individuals, according to 2017 Race in the Workplace McGregor-Smith Review. Yet Business in the Community (BITC) research found that 66 per cent of Black respondents hold university degrees, masters and PhDs (91 per cent among Black African respondents). In addition, the Tortoise Disability 100 report revealed that just 5 per cent of the FTSE 100 have board level statements on disability as part of their leadership agenda.
There’s a clear business case for inclusive talent management programmes. BITC say race equality will bring £24 billion to the UK economy per year – around £481 million a week. The disabled community also represent a wealth of untapped talent: with 14 million disabled people in the UK, according to the latest Labour Force Survey, just over 4 million are actually employed.
Some employers are leading the way when it comes to inclusive talent management programmes. Santander recently launched its first Black Inclusion Programme for students and recent graduates, while the civil service run a leadership programme for those with disabilities. The NHS have a Stepping Up Programme to support career progression and provide development opportunities for Black and minority ethnic NHS staff.
Barriers to success
But, says Debbie Tembo, managing director at the Black British Business Awards, most traditional leadership and talent progression programmes seldom reflect the lived experience of those in the minority. “Content insights, activities and practical recommendations often overlook the role that race plays in shaping perceptions during interpersonal interactions and of leadership. What works for the majority does not always apply to the minority,” she points out.
And from a recruitment perspective, KK Harris, director and executive coach at Talking Talent believes that many organisations fail at the first hurdle. “I’ve heard many people say, ‘we just can’t find the talent’. But if they are serious about finding diverse talent, they shouldn’t be lazy about it – the talent is out there,” she says. “Use recruiters specialising in diverse talent, send internal recruiters out to universities which aren’t Oxbridge or The Russell Group. And don’t judge people based on background or your own education standards.”
Andrea Girlanda, chief executive of auticon, an IT consultancy and social enterprise whose consultants are all autistic, believes part of the problem is that some employers have such a fear of ‘doing the wrong thing,’ they end up doing nothing at all. The barriers that some marginalised groups, including neurodiverse individuals face as a result, can be significant.
“The pressure of an interview situation, physically stimulating environments and/or ‘unwritten’ rules around social interactions, can make things stressful for autistic people to navigate everyday work interactions, from the recruitment process to the job itself,” he explains.
So what should organisations be doing to ensure their talent management programmes are as inclusive and empowering as possible?
- Expose leaders to the realities of bias
Bias, says Tembo, can be a ‘huge setback’ to creating truly diverse and inclusive workspaces. Specific minority ethnic programmes designed to help facilitate mutual, psychologically safe spaces where leaders are exposed to the reality of bias can be ‘hugely beneficial’.
- Commit for the long-term
“Growing diverse talent is not something that is limited to being on the agenda for a year or two, or even five,” says Harris. “This is a long game to level out the playing field. If you have an employee base of 1000 and have a diverse population group of 100, then there is a clear issue that needs to be acted upon and developed over time.” Tembo agrees. “A programme designed to accelerate talent must be an investment that generates dividends beyond one individual. All key stakeholders should therefore be challenged to learn and positively deal with visible, implicit, explicit, formal and informal structures which may disproportionately affect the ability of affected middle managers to rise through the ranks.”
- Nothing about us without us
When tailoring talent management or leadership programmes for marginalised or minority groups, consult and involve individuals who identify as being part of these groups, to ensure the schemes are meaningful, sensitive and sustainable in the long-term.
- Make reasonable adjustments
Girlanda believes organisations should apply a ‘willingness’ to make reasonable adjustments such as flexible working patterns, remote working or organising team training on what to expect when working with a neurodiverse team member. “This can make a huge impact on bringing more neurodivergent talent into the workforce,” he explains.
CASE STUDY: Jellyfish
Digital marketing agency Jellyfish recently transformed their management and progression policies by stripping out ‘old-fashioned’ hierarchical structures all together. “Existing structures were a barrier rather than a benefit to employees,” explains Rob Pierre, CEO at Jellyfish. “We want to reinforce the mindset that progression is about contributing to our collective goals, so outcomes, rather than output, are rewarded.”
Line management and heads of department roles have been abolished. Instead, every employee has a dedicated support network – a people partner, a capability partner, a finance partner, a buddy and a mentor – to help them progress in their careers and provide wellbeing support. Promotions themselves are no longer hierarchical. Employees are supported by their network to develop an anonymised business case for promotion which is then reviewed by a rotating panel rather than a line manager.
“The anonymisation of the business case eliminates the role that unconscious bias can play in whether someone gets that promotion, or not,” says Pierre.
To date, women have submitted 53 per cent of business cases for promotion with an 81 per cent approval rating, while Jellyfish’s gender pay gap has fallen by 22 per cent. In addition, 36 per cent of senior positions are held by people from non-white backgrounds in both the UK and the US. “By taking down barriers, we’re accelerating our journey to becoming a more representative business,” Pierre adds.
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