Equality in career development.

Have you ever heard of a leaky pipeline? That signals a loss of talented employees from one level to another.

Employees fail to progress past a certain level. They either do not get promoted to the next level or exit the organization before receiving the opportunity to advance. Therefore, your investment in that employee, by training and mentoring them, does not yield benefits for your organization.

A leaky pipeline is most common for underrepresented or minority group employees. The solution is to invest in equal career development opportunities and provide adequate support for all employees.

Action 1: Bias-free performance reviews.

Performance reviews are processes in which a manager assesses and evaluates an employee’s performance at work. The goal is to give feedback on employees’ strengths, point out areas of improvement, and discuss future career goals and expectations.

A big responsibility lies in the manager or team leader taking the initiative, making time to conduct the assessment, and communicating their observations to the employee.

  • Bias is at play.

A downside of performance reviews is that they are human assessments, judgments made of others, which means unconscious biases significantly impact the outcome.

Common biases in performance reviews are:

  1. Recency bias: When the manager focuses on someone’s performance in the most recent period.
  2. Halo effect: When the manager lets their positive first impression affect their overall performance assessment.
  3. Horn effect: When a manager lets one negative quality or event impact their overall performance assessment.
  4. Centrality bias: A manager’s tendency to rate employees in the middle of a rating scale for most items.
  5. Affinity bias: When a manager assesses employees who are like them more favorably.
  6. Idiosyncratic rater bias: When a manager gives a more positive assessment of skills, they are not good at and is more critical of skills they are great at.
  7. Contrast bias: When a manager unconsciously compares an employee’s performance with that of other employees instead of the company performance standard.
  8. Identity biases: When a manager lets stereotypes about gender, ethnicity, age, and other identity traits positively or negatively impact their performance review.
  • What should an organization do?
  • Examine current practices: Know where you start. Your current assessment practices might already have outstanding elements or serious pitfalls you need to avoid in your reworked evaluation standards.  
  • Develop an evaluation structure: Set requirements about frequency and create clear guidelines for managers to ensure a qualitative review. Such a standard can be a template with specific items to review, a scorecard, requirements for written motivations, and instructions to communicate feedback to employees.
  • Train managers: Teach your managers skills to conduct a good and equal review. Train them to avoid unconscious bias while reviewing and to give structured, specific, well-motivated, and constructive feedback.
  • Use data: Save employee performance data. That allows your HR department to detect and compare trends in performance management against your population’s demographic information. In the long term, this helps define barriers and continuous unequal development of specific employee groups.
  • What should a manager do?
  • Define success: Define what successful job performance looks like for every employee. Do this in collaboration with each employee. Be specific in your definitions and always work towards a clear intended outcome.
  • Use performance snapshots: Collect feedback from multiple points in time to avoid recency bias and the halo effect. Take structured and skills-based notes or use your organization’s evaluation template. That will help save all the information if you need to recall your judgment later.  

An alternative to the annual performance review can be to use more regular check-ins.

Action 2: DEI-focused succession planning.

Succession planning allows you to have the right people in the right place. It ensures the continuity of the business and helps you quickly define who to turn to when urgently looking for a leader with a specific set of skills.

With DEI high on the agenda, it makes sense to approach your leadership pipeline with a DEI focus. In addition, use succession planning to ensure you always have the necessary diversity at all levels of leadership.

  • Views on leadership diversity.

When discussing diversity in the organization, specifically in leadership, diversity of gender and ethnicity are the first ones that come to mind. That is if diversity is discussed at all.

Have you ever heard someone say “Our leadership is plenty diverse. We have a woman and five different nationalities on the team. It is impossible to ignore the diversity of thought that brings.”? That is still a common approach to diversity, but it is not sufficient.

We challenge you to go further. Consider less visible types of diversity like sexual orientation, neurodiversity, or even age, and question the societal position of your leadership.

  • Three steps for future-proof succession planning.

Action 3: Inclusive coaching.

It is a challenge for leaders to treat each team member equally, especially when supporting them in their development and coaching them to advance their careers.

As a leader and coach, be aware of your position.

  • In your leadership role, ask yourself about:

Power: Most hierarchical organizations have a power imbalance between leaders and team members. However natural, be conscious of how hierarchy creates barriers. For example, is it more difficult for team members to approach you or for you to observe their work and coach them?

Privilege: Reflect on your privilege; the benefits or advantages linked to your identity and position in society and at work. When you belong to a majority group, your privilege can be a blind spot. Are you aware of the different experiences of minority team members? Do you challenge your privilege and actively support employees who experience exclusion or discrimination?

Personal norms and biases: Investigate your norms and possible biases rooted in your past experiences. They influence your expectations and the way you judge behaviors. For example, what does the ideal employee look like? How should they behave? With how much support should they be able to thrive?

List your possible blind spots and remind yourself of them regularly. That will help you to be more open-minded when coaching others.

  • With your blind spots in mind, approach coaching in an inclusive way:

Become a DEI expert.