Want to boost the development of underrepresented talent? Strengthen CLO, CDO partnerships - Chief Learning Officer

Not only is the role of the chief diversity officer growing and becoming more vital, but it’s evolving at a breakneck speed. In November 2020, LinkedIn reported that CDO was the fastest-growing C-suite title of the year, expanding at a rate of 84 percent compared with 2019. But considering how limited the size of a “diversity office” usually is, in both resources and staff, the importance of partnerships with other departments cannot be overstated.

In years past, the CDO typically partnered with an organization’s chief learning officer when it came to company-wide training for scaling diversity, inclusion and implicit bias. Although these endeavors are well-intentioned, research shows that over the decades, these programs at best fail to produce a more diverse workforce, and, at worst, negatively impact existing DEI efforts.

To bring about lasting change and improve DEI in talent development, it is crucial to reexamine the partnership between CLOs and CDOs in a way that will get the most leverage for both parties while solving real problems for employees. To do that, let’s focus on four key goals employers often propose to me when undertaking DEI strategies:

  • Elevate underrepresented talent, especially Black and LatinX talent, beyond front-line roles.
  • Companies want to make sure the community knows the work it’s doing to be an inclusive employer to accelerate the attraction of a more diverse workforce.
  • Create a more inclusive environment so every employee feels that they belong.
  • Implement clear objectives that can be measured to ensure DEI efforts are having the desired impact.

On the surface, these objectives may seem like they’re only aligned with talent acquisition, culture or people analytics. But each of these goals illustrate how the support of talent development draws a direct and clear path to the goals of a company’s diversity office. Rather than siloing these objectives onto separate teams, CLOs and CDOs can accomplish more by working together, while also measuring and tracking progress at the same time.

Elevate Black and LatinX talent beyond the front lines

In April, the National Student Clearinghouse reported the undergraduate enrollment rate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the data is bleak, particularly for students in underrepresented populations: Enrollment for Black students is down by 9.9 percent, LatinX students fell by 8.2 percent, Native Americans dropped by 14 percent, and the rate for international students is down by 21 percent.

At the same time, many organizations are trying to increase representation in their exempt roles by focusing externally using college talent pipelines or from their fellow competitors — all while overlooking the Black and LatinX talent they already employ in their front lines. But because that talent is so underinvested, the chasm from starting as a nonexempt employee to becoming an exempt one seems uncrossable, as illustrated in this graph based on CEPR data.

In one conversation I had with a Fortune 100 employer, the company’s L&D Leader said her team had begun reserving seats in all training for Black talent first, and only gave up those seats as a last resort. This sends a signal about the company’s strong level of commitment to diversity and creates space for those who might be unable to access these roles without such training. The result is a greater mix of talent, stemming from different backgrounds, who can build networks throughout the organization, accelerate business solutions and careers, and learn about other topics in class that matter to the organization.

Attract a more diverse workforce
Although employee resource groups have been leveraged in years past to identify a few individuals for special executive sponsorship or accelerated learning for a small group, investment in underrepresented talent should go beyond a select group. Instead, ERGs should be used as a channel to access every member in those groups. Organizations that want to build representation across their workforce must make significant investments in upskilling, mentorship and sponsorship programs to help employees make the jump to leadership roles and close the equity gap. This can only happen when access to development programs is scaled across ERGs and marketed directly to underrepresented talent.
In another conversation I had with a learning leader at an international insurance company, he shared that the DEI team was working with hiring managers to clarify which skills were required for hiring and which skills could be upskilled after hiring. In response, the learning team is now creating intentional upskilling efforts as a “fast follow” to the hiring process. This allows the DEI team to accelerate the hiring of underrepresented talent who may not currently have the credentials or preferred skills needed at the moment, but do have the potential to succeed after upskilling.

It’s well known that investing in talent development, especially through the use of formal education or training offerings, has a clear impact on employee economic mobility (as illustrated in the chart below based on NCES data), retention and engagement. By targeting these same education programs within underrepresented groups, companies can make the same positive business outcomes arise for these populations too. In addition, it’s important to remember that when a company is viewed as a steward for its community, it will see a greater share of applicants from underrepresented populations, which ideally results in a greater percentage of underrepresented talent across the organization in every role.

Create a more inclusive environment
During a recent conversation with an executive from an employee survey platform, I asked whether there was a correlation between any specific question on their employee survey and the inclusivity of their workforce. She responded without hesitation: The greatest variable on workplace inclusivity depended on how employees felt about the quality of their managers.
When I worked with a Fortune 100 financial services firm in 2017 and 2018, we also observed that its employee Net Promoter Score had the highest correlation with the employees’ perception of their managers. This makes investing in manager skills a great example of “curb cut effect,” wherein a benefit for one group provides opportunities for others as well. A recent update on DEI skills from the team at Redthread Research reported that managers can develop skills of inclusivity by also developing skills in communication, empathy, giving feedback, flexibility and self-awareness.
In addition to developing managers, policies and opportunities have to be inclusive. Our data at Guild shows that for every $1 spent on training white employees (per capita), 81 cents is spent on Black employee development and 68 cents is spent on Hispanic/LatinX employees. Although these figures are from the 1990s and are extrapolated from multiple sets of data as illustrated in the graph below, the numbers still reveal important insight about who truly gets the most out of training dollars. Unfortunately, the major players in L&D trend tracking today do not yet capture information on spending by education level, race and gender when they gather data from employers. It is crucial, then, for those in the L&D space to begin advocating for this information as a part of the work we must continue to do to make the industry more inclusive.

Measuring impact: Inspect what we expect
For decades, Black and brown employees have been poorly served by good intentions paired with bad execution. It’s critical that these aforementioned initiatives be adopted with a clear eye toward measuring progress and impact.
While it’s critical that underrepresented talent is considered across all levels of a company in the hiring process, organizations must continually strive to create lasting equality and equity for its workers even after they are hired. To evaluate this, there are many data points that can be measured as a result of more intentional upskilling for existing employees, disaggregated by race. This includes engagement scores like NPS, retention rates, inclusion scores, promotion velocity, equity in pay, growth in management and leadership positions, and representation by team, business unit, role and level. This is especially important to disaggregate for those who participate in talent development offerings versus those who do not.
Accelerating impact
The amount of thought, feedback and time it takes to make a company more inclusive is tremendous, but the results will be invaluable. It will require CLOs to collaborate closely with CDOs and ERGs to identify how employees seek out development and the perceived roadblocks that get in the way. This is an opportunity for such partnerships to accelerate ambitious goals for talent acquisition, DEI and talent development and do it in a way that allows companies to tout their investment externally in order to recruit even more underrepresented talent.
In the end, when an organization’s CDO and CLO partnership is strengthened, when there are more inclusive managers, when there are clearer pathways from nonexempt to exempt roles, and when all the impact of talent development investments can be disaggregated and measured, all employees, but especially those from underrepresented groups, will benefit.
The commitment to accelerating impact for Black talent is demonstrated best by the OneTen coalition, which aims to hire 1 million Black people over the next 10 years. This goal isn’t simply a one-off initiative. Rather, it’s an intentional, long-term effort that top employers and executives are committing into action. These jobs will be family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement for years to come. This endeavor is being supported by an ecosystem of talent providers who will also identify, upskill, develop and build the skills of this often-overlooked population. It’s exactly the kind of work L&D professionals should emulate if we are to team up with our CDO counterparts and maximize our impact, both in our organizations and our communities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *