Promoting Diversity in Promotions

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There are steps to take today to unleash the power of diversity in the workplace by moving a diverse group of associates up the organizational ladder.

By Rommel Anacan

Diversity is one of the hottest “hot-button” topics in the workplace today. From a social perspective, the increasing awareness of the importance of diversity makes perfect sense: We live in an ever-increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-colored, multi-creed and multi-everything else society! The good news is that racial and ethnic diversity is not only good for people and good for morale, it’s good for business and good for the bottom line.

Consider these statistics:

  • According to McKinsey and Company research, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • McKinsey and Company also found that in the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: For every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.

The Problem

While we’ve established that more diversity increases organizational financial performance, we still run into roadblocks.

Only 22% of people surveyed in the above referenced McKinsey and Company research reported that racial diversity was a company priority. Further, research from CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation found that 26% of Blacks and 15% of Hispanics said they felt that they had been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity at their place of work in the past 30 days. The research further found that 27% of Blacks said they felt they had been denied a job they were qualified for compared to 20% of Hispanics and just 9% of whites.

As society continues to diversify, our workforce and the people who move up in the workforce need to diversify as well. While we’ve come a long way, there still is progress to be made in promoting diversity in promotions. The good news is there are things we can do right now to unleash both the power of diversity in the workplace and the power of having diverse associates moving up the organizational ladder.

The Solution

The first thing you can do is to be aware. The fact is we all have a “way” in which we view, experience and interact with the world around us. Our “way” determines what we think is right or wrong. What we like to eat or not eat. Who we are comfortable with and those with whom we’re not. And, who we think should be promoted and who we don’t want to promote.

In short, our “way” shapes how we frame, interpret and respond to everything around us. So, you’ll want to take time and ask yourself, “What is my ‘way’ and how does it affect how I view and interact with people?” If you’re unsure, ask someone you trust for their honest feedback. Then expand your assessment from how your way affects you personally to how it affects you professionally and organizationally.

Create Connection Opportunities

According to the McKinsey and Company research, 41% of Black women said they never had a substantive interaction with a senior leader about their work. For comparison, only 27% of men said that. Only 60 Black women are promoted to manager for every 100 men.

One of the most effective things you can do to promote diversity in promotions is to provide opportunities for different people to work together. Create situations where senior leadership connects with a wide variety of people. Put different people together on a team. Have different people work on a project together. Ask someone else to give the monthly report at the next meeting.

When we discriminate, we tend to discriminate against groups and not individuals.

But when we see each other as “humans” and not simply as members of a category, the divisions between us tend to fade. Be sure to create opportunities for people to connect as people, which will then allow candidates to get noticed who might not otherwise.

Increase the Promotion Candidate Pool

A study by the Harvard Business Review reveals that where are at least two minority candidates in the finalist pool (regardless of the size of the candidate pool) up for a job, the chances that a minority person will get the job increased by 193 times.

One of the best organizational strategies I know of is to create a diverse promotion pipeline in your company, which has significant impact on organizational depth and growth. I can tell you firsthand that what has worked with leading companies is having a well-defined promotion path and a pipeline of promotion-eligible candidates. It creates continuity, increases morale and offers hope to people looking to move up in the organization. It’s also critical that the promotion pipeline includes minorities, so that when promotion decisions are being made, minority candidates aren’t dismissed outright.

Encourage Diverse Employee Referrals

Another article published in the Harvard Business Review said, “Again, we found that while Black employees were statistically less likely to get outstanding promotions than white employees, this wasn’t true if Black employees were hired through a referral. Black employees hired through a referral were just as likely to get outstanding promotions as white employees hired without a referral.”

The action item here is to encourage employees to refer candidates, and further encourage employees to refer diverse candidates. As these candidates become employees and then become eligible to advance within the organization, their status as referred employees could increase their chances for promotion. This in turn is good for everyone.

As the workforce continues to diversify, it’s ever-more important for companies to embrace diversity and to be intentional about increasing diversity in a healthy, sustainable and productive way. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is worth it.

Rommel Anacan is a consultant, speaker and coach. He can be reached at