As a woman of color, I’m often asked how leaders and their organizations can address systemic inequities in our society. My response is to look in our own backyards, within our own organizations. You don’t have to look far to see inequities that we have chosen too long to ignore.
Take for example the advancement of people from entry level up through leadership into the C-suite. If our promotion criteria and processes were fair and based on a meritocracy, then you would expect that people would advance in the same proportion at which they entered the company.
Yet that isn’t the case. The figure below shows data from the LeanIn.Org and McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace 2020”, where representation by corporate roles of four segments — white men, white women, men of color, and women of color — is indexed to the entry level population of that group. For example, white women make up 29% of the entry level population and they make up 26% of managers which indexes at 0.90.
At the very first level of promotion from entry level to manager, there is a separation. The good news is that white women and men of color get promoted to manager at close to their representation. These two groups continue to maintain strong representation all the way into the C-suite — but it could be better.
But look at the representation by women of color. At the very first level of promotion to manager, women of color drop off significantly in representation to 67% of their entry level population compared to 126% of white men. This borders on becoming adverse impact.
By the time we get to the C-suite, representation by women of color is a minuscule 17% of their entry level population. Intersectionality — which is the compounding of overlapping discrimination and disadvantage, in this case, gender and race — means that the glass ceiling is far lower for women of color than we realized. Looking at diversity through the lens of intersectionality means that we include the layering impact of multiple forms of discrimination, including age, disability, sexuality, class, and education.
Transforming Leadership in Our Organizations
Numbers matter because we manage what we can measure. We know from countless studies that diverse teams disrupt the status quo, driving exponential growth and profits over their less diverse counterparts.
This isn’t a C-suite problem. It begins at the very beginning of the leadership journey which means that leaders at every level of the organization can be a part of the solution. When we can recognize discrimination in all of its forms, our leaders can identify and address systemic bias built into our organizations.
I’m heartened by the increased awareness of unfairness in our organizations and society and the desire for leaders to take action. I’m also excited about the ways that digital transformation can play a role in these efforts. Here are three specific examples of how technology can make a difference in how we increase fairness in our own organizations.
- Create digital dashboards to provide visibility and enable early intervention. In most organizations, diversity numbers remain hidden in a vault to be pulled out for reporting purposes. Put that data to good use by providing real-time data on candidate pools at all levels of the organization, from hiring to promotions to ensure a slate of diverse candidates. For extra impact, focus on promotion paths for roles that develop profit and loss management skills as these lead more directly to C-suite positions.
- Use artificial intelligence to identify and reduce bias in promotions. We can point AI at employment and promotion data to identify adverse impact in ways that we couldn’t detect. Services like Textio can help write more inclusive job descriptions. And technology like Text IQ, which identifies patterns in natural language, can be pointed at performance reviews to identify bias.
- Create personalized development plans and training at scale. Front-line managers rarely receive substantive leadership development and training, perpetuating systemic issues. Platforms like AceUp identify skill gaps and create personalized leadership with a technology platform. AI can development plans can prompt leaders to develop under-represented groups to increase their skills in critical areas.
It may feel like a long path to close the leadership gap and we won’t get there by incrementally pushing things forward. Let’s use digital technologies to disrupt and transform our organizations to make them more fair and equitable for everyone.