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Nearly 90% of HR leaders said they feel their organization has been ineffective or flat at increasing diversity representation, a Gartner report found. The research, released on Thursday, identified the three organizational barriers to the advancement of underrepresented groups, and what organizations can do to fix it.

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Gartner defined the three organizational barriers as unclear career paths and steps to advancement; too little exposure to senior leaders; and a lack of career support or mentors.

“Many organizations haven’t prioritized diversity over the years and find themselves with homogenous workforces, and especially leadership teams,” said Lauren Romansky, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “When leadership then begins to prioritize diversity, they hope to hire their way into it. But what we’ve found is inclusion has to come first or underrepresented talent won’t stay.”

HR managers must recognize the bias systemically embedded in organizations if they want to truly bolster the diversity in leadership seats. To do so, Gartner outlined three key actions HR can take that will help them advance this talent.

Tips for boosting organizational diversity

1. Fix the manager-employee relationship

To make progress in diversifying a staff, companies must build healthy manager-employee relationships that are set on the foundation of advocacy, the report found.

HR leaders can foster these relationships by teaching managers how to create personalized support for direct reports while helping them be effective talent coaches. Leaders can also promote manager awareness of the employee experience of underrepresented talent, as well as broker trust between underrepresented talent and their managers.

“Managers are responsible for so many critical components of an employee’s performance and development, from work planning to coaching to assessment to creating connections. If a manager and employee do not have a foundation of trust, it’s incredibly difficult for that employee to advance,” Romansky said.

The research found that the most successful organizations move beyond the traditional leadership development programs that only focus on skill-building to advance women, LGBTQ+, or racially and ethnically diverse individuals. The programs also focus on managers of program participants to spread awareness of employee experiences, build trust, and boost advocacy.

2. Enable growth-focused networks

Growth-focused networks create a self-sustaining environment, providing diverse individuals in roles, skills, level, and experience. These networks also present exposure to senior leaders who are in the position to support growth and advancement, according to the research.

The Gartner report found that for companies that create networking programs for underrepresented talent, HR leaders are 2X more likely to report that they are successful at improving organizational inclusion and 1.3X more likely to report they are effective at rising diverse employee engagement.

Key actions HR leaders can take to enable these networks include helping employees understand how networking will unlock better diversity and inclusion; encourage underrepresented talent to actively network; and teach managers how to manage networks in a way that helps this talent with advancement.

“Organizations can encourage and authorize employees, especially underrepresented employees, to network broadly, and in a way that is supportive of their career aspirations,” Romansky said. “This creates network ties across various demographics that are good for employees and the organization.”

HR can also help by creating accountability for networking across underrepresented talent, managers, and senior leaders, the report found.

3. Redesign talent process to mitigate bias

Redesigning processes is one of the least used techniques in bias mitigation because DEI does not “own talent processes,” and calls for a major change effort, according to the report.

However, this tactic can be very effective. There are many talent processes that can be redesigned to integrate inclusion in an organization and offer fair consideration to underrepresented talent for advancement in the company.

“In the wake of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis, HR leaders are reconsidering a variety of talent processes to accommodate changing objectives and workforces,” Romansky said. “This creates an opportunity to consider where in those talent processes such as performance management, rewards, succession and high potential selection, there is bias.”

“Using a process map and considering each step, taking no decision for granted, helps HR leaders see the decision points and consider ways to mitigate that bias,” Romansky added.

The research outlined the following examples:

  • Challenging hiring managers on need-to-have versus nice-to-have requirements
  • Expanding labor market opportunities to consider adjacent and nontraditional talent pools
  • Updating definitions of potential for relevance as market conditions and business needs evolve
  • Exploring job design to accommodate diverse talent with varying needs and preferences
  • Rethinking how performance is evaluated, including who provides feedback and how productivity is defined, and holding leaders accountable for balanced evaluation of candidates and successors
  • Altering internal hiring methods

For more, check out 20 books to help companies improve workplace diversity and inclusion on TechRepublic.

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