Can we expect more women in the next generation of leaders?
Women and minorities still face many barriers in attaining leadership roles. To dig deeper into the underlying reasons as to why this is still happening, we partnered with researchers from Purdue University and George Mason University and conducted a comprehensive study of fairness in how organizations identify and prepare the next generation of leaders. Our findings reveal that the source of the problem is due to unconscious bias (learned stereotypes we are unaware of). Because of unconscious bias, women and minorities face barriers at the very beginning of their leadership journey as they try to attain entry-level managerial positions. LeanIn and McKinsey refer to this issue as the “broken rung”.
The HR practices and high-potential identification programs within many organizations continues to be based on manager selection and talent reviews that are rampant with biases and may even open some organizations up to legal action. As a result, women and minorities face unequal access to exclusive developmental programs and get left behind. This lack of access is where the broken rung begins.
With a lack of diversity in the identification of high-potential employees, we won’t achieve parity even in the next generation of leaders. In the end, it just becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Therefore, it is vital that we repair the broken rung, for if we don’t, we will just feed into this vicious cycle and inevitably leave potential talent on the table.
What is the make-up of high-potential programs today?
Today, almost twice the amount of men than women are in high potential programs. Our findings suggest that unconscious bias in high-potential programs limits women’s access to special training and resources that organizations only make available to high-potential employees. As a result, these employees join an (often) unofficial pool and receive disproportionately more training and resources to accelerate their development. As employees access these resources, their readiness to take on larger roles and climb the corporate ladder increases. With increased readiness, these protégés move to the front of the line when opportunities for promotion become available. In turn, this feeds into an endless cycle in which women and minorities are overlooked and passed over when opportunities arise.
Unconscious bias in succession planning?
Amongst our findings, research shows that women generally outperform men on several leadership skills predictive of success in leadership positions, suggesting that women and men are at least equally capable of performing at managerial levels. Currently we see a similar pattern of disparity in succession planning as seen in high-potential programs. There are almost twice as many men compared to women on today’s succession plans. Similar to the findings in succession planning, parity still remains.
What about race?
Regarding racial group representation in today’s high-potential programs, we see more parity. There is a roughly proportional representation of different racial groups in high-potential programs compared to the distribution in the total employee population at the companies we studied. A similar pattern is also emerging with today’s succession plans. Compared to the total employee population at the companies we studied, organizations are selecting a proportionate number of individuals from different racial backgrounds as successors for key positions.
The implication of our findings is clear: organizations must expand their efforts to tackle bias in talent decision-making to include the identification and development of future leaders. So long as managers continue to be the gatekeepers for who gets access to special development resources, the issue will remain. And while decisions about the next generation of leaders go unchecked, companies leave potentially more capable talent on the table. As the war for talent has forced organizations to grow future leaders from within, now is the time to start combating bias and discrimination in post-hire talent decisions, such as identification of high-potential employees and succession planning. Repairing this crack in the rung will ensure that women and minority groups can equally benefit from the special training and resources only reserved for high-potential employees and successors, and consequently be given an equal chance to compete for a promotion.
To level the playing for women and minority groups, and to ensure that the most capable individuals are placed in leadership roles, organizations should turn to more objective measures of performance and potential that are free of bias and better predict employees’ future success. Businesses must use better tools for evaluating talent for leadership roles or run the risk of losing profits, losing talented people, and inviting lawsuits.
If you would like to learn more about the broken rung and how unconscious bias might be affecting your organization, you can download the research report here: Repairing the Broken Rung: Overcoming Bias in the Leadership Pipeline‹ Previous PostNext Post ›