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Why equitable promotion practices are key to diversity and inclusion

A recent Harvard Business Review survey of over 400,000 U.S. workers revealed that when employees believe promotions are managed effectively, they are more than twice as likely to give extra effort at work and to plan a long-term future with their company. They are also five times as likely to believe leaders act with integrity.

Today, employees are more educated than ever before and expect their workplace to promote their people in an equitable way. Employers failing to promote their people in a fair, equitable way risk losing talent, lower morale and productivity and even lawsuits. In this article, I will explain why promotion should be part of your diversity and inclusion strategy and how you can ensure equitable promotion practices.

1) Promoting the same people is a grave mistake

A 2016 study by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR revealed that male managers were 40% more likely than female managers to be promoted into higher roles. Analysis of salary data of more than 60,000 UK employees found that in the past year, 14% of men in management roles were promoted into higher positions compared to 10% of women. The promotion gap still exists today. A 2020 study by Qualtrics revealed that 34% of men working remotely with children at home had received a promotion, versus only 9% of women in the same situation.

When promotions are not managed in an equitable way and the same group of people gets promoted consistently, other groups will grow feelings of resentment. Promoting men ahead of women keeps everyone back. Gender diversity delivers better financial results: Companies with gender diversity in leadership outperform their less diverse peers. On average, their advantage is seen in a 48% higher operating margin, a 42% higher return on sales and a 45% higher earnings per share. In addition, gender-diverse teams make better business decisions up to 73% of the time.

Discriminatory promotion practices also affect the satisfaction of all employees, not only those who are discriminated against. Promotions and rewards should be awarded based upon the employee’s performance. When employees consistently see promotions being given on the basis of gender, race, age or other discriminatory factors, their drive to advance within the organization or perform to the best of their ability will be negatively affected.

Employees who observe consistent discrimination in promotion practices are more likely to leave the business. If your organisation's voluntary turnover is high, you are probably losing skilled, competent workers. Recruiting and training replacements is costly to the organisation and affects productivity.

Discrimination practices are not just a bad practice, they are also illegal. Responding to a discrimination complaint for unfair promotion is time-consuming and costly, and can directly affect the bottom line of the organisation, even if the charge itself is ultimately dismissed.

To learn more about how to boost diversity and inclusion in your organisation, read 5 ways to improve diversity and inclusion in your organization.

2) How to ensure fair and equitable promotion practices

To improve how your team feels about promotions, make sure you have conversations with all your employees about their career aspirations before a new role opens up. When there is a promotion opportunity available, encourage every employee to apply and don’t wait for specific employees to apply. Once a decision has been made, be transparent about why the person who got the promotion deserved it.

Actively mentor all your employees. Every employee in your organisation should have a mentor or a sponsor in a leadership role. The mentor should act as their personal coach throughout their career. To learn more about mentoring best practices, watch my video 3 Ways Mentoring Fosters Inclusion (And Why It's So Successful!).

Create opportunities for exposure to senior leadership for everyone. Arrange formal one-to-one skip-level meetings, organise breakfasts with the CEO, offer different opportunities for all employees to build a relationship with senior leadership of all departments, not just for a certain group of people. To find out more about how to create an inclusive workplace, read my book: Inclusion: The Ultimate Secret for an Organization's Success.

Encourage cross-department shadowing for people to develop new skills. Invite all your employees to consider a career change in a new department. This will give all of your employees equal opportunities to enhance their education and cross-train to make progress towards their career goals.

Create a solid promotion policy and share it with your employees. Managers and hiring decision makers should be trained on promoting without bias. Hold your managers accountable for following the promotion process properly and audit your process to make sure it is fair and nondiscriminatory.

Communicate clearly and often. Ensure that all your employees are familiar with the promotion process. This knowledge helps diffuse potential problems. Communicate the opening within your company before posting it externally.

To learn more about how to create equitable practices in your workplace, download this free guide: The Ultimate Diversity Champion Guide.

As employees are becoming increasingly aware of social inequalities in our society as well as discriminations in the workplace, especially when it comes to promotions, employers must take action to establish fair and equitable promotion practices. Sustaining unfair promotion practices builds employee resentment, decreases employee morale and productivity, increases employee turnover, increases risks of lawsuits and is costly for the organisation. Forward-thinking employers implement strategies to prevent unfair promotion practices, foster diversity, equity and inclusion and are able to retain diverse talent.

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