- People of color and gender minorities consistently face bias roadblocking their path to the C-suite, Gartner's survey found. Women make 56% of frontline employees, but 29% of the C-suite; Black and indigenous people and other people of color make up 31% of the frontline workforce and 17% of the C-suite.
- BIPOC and gender minorities experience slower rates of promotion compared to their peers and suffer from a "worse perception of leadership potential," Gartner reported in its 2021 Leadership Progression and Diversity Survey. The spread of respondents was more than 3,500 employees across 24 industries.
- Researchers interviewed more than 100 HR leaders at corporate companies. The no. 1 reason HR managers gave for the lack of BIPOC and women in leadership roles was "not having enough diverse leadership talent in the pipeline."
One key takeaway from Gartner's report is that diversity work shouldn't stop because diverse candidates have been hired. HR teams should embody diversity and inclusion values in their recruitment process as well as the promotion cycle.
"The way we evaluate talent — the criteria we use — is often biased toward majority groups. Sometimes it's overtly, sometimes it's subtly, but the criteria we're applying when we assess talent often leads to biased decisions that then perpetuate that lack of diversity in the pipeline," Caitlin Duffy, research director at Gartner's HR practice and the report's principal researcher, told HR Dive.
"For example, some of the criteria used to describe 'leadership success,' often associated with our traditional expectations of leadership, tend to be very male dominated," she said. "They might be focused on words like aggressive, assertive, and we know that women are perceived differently when they're expressing those same behaviors in the workplace."
This is why Duffy recommends companies should re-evaluate their leadership criteria. Talent teams should ask themselves the question, "What do we want our culture and mindset around leadership to look like?"
The first line of defense in D&I spaces is often bias training. But that may not be enough: Gartner's data suggested these trainings do little in the way of advancing BIPOC and gender minorities in the workplace.
Twenty-eight percent of leaders at companies where there is no training claimed an unbiased performance management system. Likewise, 32% of leaders at companies with trainings claimed an unbiased system. And yet, according to Gartner's data, a dearth of gender and racial diversity in leadership remains.
Even among senior leaders who support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Duffy said, promotion decisions remain subjective. "Often, employees themselves said that the biggest barrier to leadership progression was that leadership decisions are mostly political — based on and influenced by relationships rather than performance," Duffy said. "They might be fully supportive of that kind of [diverse and equitable] culture, but when it really comes down to picking a successor, they still tend to go for the usual suspects."
If bias trainings are little help, what should HR teams do? Using data at every step in the talent life cycle is a start.
The problem, Duffy said, is that companies use data to report on decisions instead of influencing them. "Often organizations will kind of do the 'after,' but they won't think as much about the 'before' and 'during.' They might be reviewing their decisions and saying, 'OK, well that turned out well.' Or, 'That really moved us forward.' Or, 'This didn't; we'll fix it next time,'" she said.
Data can inform the D&I goal-setting conversation. It can also inform the subsequent, objective criteria companies use to measure their D&I progress. Folding advancement of diverse talent into a manager's performance review — that is to say, "consequential accountability — is a great incentive for meeting D&I goals.
"You need to be able to say, 'Leaders have demonstrated this in a very clear and measurable way,'" Duffy explained. "That actually is going to impact their progression or their performance evaluation, in a way that is personally relevant and has urgency for them."