Despite labeling it a priority, only 12 per cent of HR leaders feel their organisation has been effective at increasing diversity representation, according to a survey by Gartner. 

Based on a global survey of 113 HR leaders conducted in April 2020, Gartner said there are three organisational barriers to the advancement of underrepresented talent: Unclear career paths and steps to advancement; too little exposure to senior leaders; and lack of mentors or career support.

While research shows that a diverse workforce is good for the bottom line, DEI programs are often the first to go when companies start to tighten their belts.

However, Gartner argues HR departments should take advantage of the disruption caused by the current crisis which is forcing them to redesign their process. The reset is an opportunity to do more to help underrepresented talent to reach leadership positions. 

“An April survey of heads of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion found that 69 per cent are prioritising advancing underrepresented talent especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lauren Romansky, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

“While the intent is there, there is no two-hour training remedy for this challenge. Organisations need to assess their current systems and processes to mitigate bias and address organisational factors that prohibit equal opportunity for advancement.”

The analysts argue HR and DEI leaders must address the systemic bias embedded in their systems, processes, and stakeholders to truly increase the diversity of their managerial and leadership benches. 

At the recruitment level, Gartner recommends redesigning the talent process to mitigate bias. 

According to Gartner, redesigning these processes is often the least used technique in bias mitigation because DEI does not own talent processes, and it requires a significant change effort. However, it can be one of the most effective. 

The research identifies several steps in the hiring process to widen the pool of potential candidates, including challenging hiring managers on need-to-have versus nice-to-have requirements and exploring job design to accommodate diverse talent with varying needs and preferences. 

“COVID-19 and the transition to remote work has created a variety of change in talent processes already. This is the opportunity to adjust talent processes to prevent non-compliance on D&I goals and ensure there are no opportunities for bias to occur,” said Ingrid Laman, vice president, advisory, in the Gartner HR practice. 

Following recruiting, the manager-employee relationship is crucial for advancing talent to leadership levels. 

“Our research and conversations with HR and DEI leaders show that managers are unable to effectively execute critical advocacy and advancement-related activities if they do not have a solid working relationship with their employees, which can be more challenging when manager and employee come from different experiences,” said Laman.  

To fix the manager-employee dynamic, Gartner recommends building manager awareness of the employee experience of underrepresented talent and brokering trust between underrepresented talent and their managers. 

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