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How Effective Talent Development Increases Diversity in Management

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How are major companies solving the promotion gap and retention problems of traditionally underrepresented groups


More than 150 chief diversity officers and senior executives from more than 75 companies attended our November 2010 event in Washington, D.C., discussing this and other questions on diversity management in our roundtable sessions. Focused discussions facilitated by professors from The PhD Project led to idea sharing and recommendations for action plans.

What do you see as the greatest inequities and gaps in your organization, leading to retention and promotion gaps for underrepresented groups How are you trying to resolve them

Manny Fernandez, director, inclusion and diversity, JCPenney: When you work for an organization that has 150,000 associates, it’s challenging for everyone to have a voice. We’re really doing a good job, providing an opportunity for all associates to have a voice through our annual engagement surveys and ARGs [associate-resource groups]. Now we’ve started what we call field councils, which are really the associates in the field at our stores and the associates in our supply chain. It’s amazing because that’s the front line. If you haven’t engaged the associates, those are the people who are going to have the greatest opportunity to be your brand ambassadors. Once you have an opportunity to invite everyone to bring their voice, then you need to act upon it for the betterment of the company.

Patricia Rossman, chief diversity officer and HR communications, BASF Corp.: We’ve brought greater visibility to some key roles that are feeder positions, for lack of a better term. What we’re now doing is we’re requiring mandatory posting of those roles. It used to be that at a certain level, the posting process kind of declined. Now what we’re looking to do is make sure that those roles are posted. It has a twofold advantage to us. We are having people come forward who say they are interested in those roles, and they’re presenting their qualifications in a way that’s much more focused. So, we have sourced some people through that that we might have overlooked before. The other effect that we’re seeing that’s positive is it’s also allowing people to see what are the skills that are required for those roles and what can they do earlier in their career to prepare. We just started doing this about four months ago.

David Casey, vice president, diversity officer, CVS Caremark: It’s an inability to assess capability over experience that’s keeping a lot of people out of the talent conversation at the top. When you look at a lot of large companies, they are still being run for the most part by white men, and have historically been done so. So, when you’re looking for somebody who’s had 15, 20 years’ experience, who is that going to be

Joe Husman, national manager, inclusion and diversity, Toyota Financial Services: Most companies want to hire on experience only. So, I want a tax accountant who has already done this tax-accounting work, and so we don’t hire on potential. To say to somebody, “You’ve got to have 20 years’ experience in tax accounting” means you are going to be a certain profile from 20 years ago, as opposed to saying, “You need five years of current tax-accounting experience,” which would give you a whole different profile and perspective of an individual. It’s really potential versus experience, as well as capability.

Nicole Johnson-Reece, vice president of diversity, ARAMARK: White males get promoted on potential because there is a level of comfort. So, the person who is doing the assessing or the promoting is usually a white male and feels comfortable giving that person a chance because they may know them, they know someone who knows them, they’ve golfed with them, they’ve gone out for drinks with them, they’ve had some level of interaction. Females and ethnic groups get promoted on performance, and exceptional performance. You have to prove that you can do it because there’s less of a level of comfort to give you that extra leeway to say, “Let’s give that person a chance,” because they don’t have that comfort level.

Deborah Dagit, vice president and chief diversity officer, Merck & Co.: If someone has proven that they can do a good job but the way they go about doing it is different than the way a white male of a certain age who is straight and able-bodied would do it, then they’re [considered] not ready yet. I would submit that any organization that’s representing a group that’s not in that privileged group would be able to say the same thing. I think a huge barrier for corporations is we promote people primarily on their ability to emulate and pay homage to the tradition. And so, how is that going to serve us in a global, multicultural-customer work environment It makes no sense, but they still don’t see it. Merck is one of many companies that have achieved diversity at the top. If you were to see a picture of our executive team in our annual report, you’d be shocked. There are four African Americans, there’s an Asian American, a Native American, a Hispanic. But there’s still the same requirement in terms of the behavior. Those are individuals who have adapted their behavior to the historical norm. The belief that we would create a bigger footprint didn’t happen.

Shaun Hawkins, chief diversity officer, Eli Lilly and Co.: The reality is that a failure of a woman or a “minority-group” member, at least as defined in the United States, in a big business role does have more risk because of reception”See, I told you we shouldn’t have done this.”

Bob Chauvin, president, SimplexGrinnell, a Tyco International company: Let’s also acknowledge that we are going to have some failures. Just like with white males, there’s not a uniformity in success. Let’s identify that up front and then make sure that they have the development plan and the resources, and all of these informal things are there to increase their likelihood of success. If the person doesn’t succeed, let’s identify why not and then retool as we staff the next position.

Shaun Hawkins: We need to showcase the successes. The reason people believe African Americans can play baseball is because Jackie Robinson had success. The reason people believe African Americans can be runningbacks or quarterbacks or coaches is because they’ve seen the success, so it’s showcased. In the business world, it’s not. We need to take those learnings from sports and replicate them. You also get the amplifier effectI want to see myself reflected in the leadership. So, if I see someone who looks like me and sounds like me and is in leadership, then I believe I can actualize my career goals in that company.

Donald Fan, senior director, Office of Diversity, Walmart: A lot of companies still are thinking about “one size fits all” from a talent-management perspective. We need to customize talent development and training and invest in it in a way that will yield better results. Mentoring makes a real difference. We have mentoring programs that ask each manager to mentor three people from different backgrounds, different experiences and different work styles. You also have the sponsorship programs. You need to sponsor two people and [be involved with] a whole host of their advancement and career development with their supervisor. You cannot just sponsor people who are your direct reports. Those programs will help remove those subconscious biases and also help give more exposure and allow people to be visible in front of the leadership and help them psychologically learn who they can get into the next levels.

Tara Amaral, chief diversity officer and vice president of talent acquisition, ADP: We have a very robust succession plan. For what we call “corporate leadership roles” there is literally a monthly discussion by our executive committee ensuring that there is a diverse slate for every single opening, and in any given month, there are 25 openings. Once a month, a leadership team meets and discusses it, knowing it is going to be fully vetted before someone is selected. Now we’re diving deeper into the organization. We started sharing just how visible the process is, and people were surprised. We don’t always get the desired results, but the fact that we’re having at least 30 conversations about this with five to seven people in each candidacy means we’re forcing the leaders to get to know a lot of people, both internally and externally.

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