Using L&D to Make Career Advancement Equitable from the Entry-Level to the C-Suite

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January 15, 2024

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Today, work is going through a period of rapid disruption. Temporary adaptations to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as remote or hybrid work, are now commonplace as employees demand greater flexibility and job personalization. Global talent shortages, the rise of the gig economy, and the rapid automation of previously human tasks are also roiling the workplace.

Learning & Development (L&D) should be at the center of this new era of work. Responsive organizations know that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are essential to leadership development and management training, but they may struggle to find effective ways to put DEI into practice. L&D innovation in corporate training can ensure learning equity and embed DEI in every stage of the career development pathway.

Equitable learning in the 21st-century workplace

Most organizations want to encourage and reward high-performing employees. Yet, as Rebecca Taylor, HR exec and co-founder of Go Coach argues, the “process of promoting an employee or designating them ‘high potential’ is often rooted in bias practices.” Systemic bias does not necessarily mean that managers intend to discriminate, but it is often one factor that helps to explain why organizations become more homogeneous as employees move up the ranks from entry-level to upper management.

To realize DEI throughout the organization, nurturing talent in underrepresented groups is essential. This includes support that enables employees to access both hard skills training and soft skills training while embracing the ethos of self-directed and lifelong learning. The March 2022 LinkedIn Employee Well-Being report found that "opportunities to learn and grow" ranked first among the top 10 drivers of employee satisfaction, up from ninth in 2019.

Supplying high-quality access to curated learning content and just-in-time learning opportunities is no longer a luxury or perk. It is a core function of L&D for companies of all sizes that want to keep good employees and leverage their talents while ensuring diversity & inclusion.

DEI and talent development

Smart organizations can use L&D to make employee advancement equitable throughout their ranks and to support a culture of continuous learning. Inclusive workplaces should reward upskilling and reskilling while supplying the means to do so effectively and consistently.

Learning in the flow of work becomes possible when targeted learning opportunities are available to each employee. The old model, in which corporate training opportunities were one-off events, usually reserved for middle-to-upper management and often delivered off-site, is not only less effective in today’s distributed work environment but likely to worsen inequities along the career path.

For example, a scientific study of a North American retail chain recently revealed that over half of the entry-level employees were women, a percentage that steadily dropped at each successive management level. It only found 14 percent female representation at the level of district manager. Moreover, while women were 7.3 percent more likely than men to receive high-performance ratings, their leadership potential was ranked 5.8 percent lower (both male and female managers consistently rated female employees lower regarding leadership potential).

At the individual level, any number of variables might interact to explain these outcomes. The authors also acknowledge that robust metrics for both performance and potential remain necessary. However, at the aggregate level, these results (as well as other studies) strongly suggest that unconscious bias may be at play when women are evaluated for upper management positions. This is precisely the type of situation in which DEI-responsive learning and development can improve both organizational culture and return on investment.

L&D innovation, integrated with DEI, can level the playing field for all employees. For example, skills development and training on leadership—how it is perceived and what actions connote it—could help non-traditional employees present their skills more effectively to management. It could also help decision-makers appreciate that there is more than one approach to leadership and thus weed out the subjective bias that makes it more difficult for some employees to ascend the ladder.

Personalized learning is the future

Rote training opportunities that change little from year to year are no longer practical for any company that intends to thrive in this volatile global environment. Not only is the old-fashioned approach to L&D often expensive and time-wasting, but new evidence suggests that top-down command and control models do not produce either effective learning or DEI. An article in the Harvard Business Review, for example, notes that “despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better” (Dobbin and Kalev 2016).

Shifting to a model that prioritizes personalized learning and self-directed learning will make on-the-job training more relevant and accessible. This approach needs to be built from the ground up on the premise that different styles of learning exist and are viable. Some learners may work quite well independently and will seek out eLearning opportunities on a regular basis. Other employees may prefer informal learning opportunities built around specific questions or tasks and options that connect them with mentors, experts, or co-workers. Linguistic diversity—offering training in the employee’s first language—can also enhance a comprehensive DEI approach.

Education research confirms that there are at least four dominant learning styles. L&D initiatives harnessing this diversity can produce positive downstream effects across the organization. Investing in a digital platform such as EdFlex puts curated content within easy reach of employees, allowing them to access just-in-time skills-based learning as well as broader content related to key processes such as promotion, talent development, and reskilling/upskilling. Integrating EdFlex, DEI, and L&D is a powerful way to create a fair and continuous learning culture.

How Can Curated Learning Content Help?

  • By offering different content formats, you can meet diverse learning styles.
  • By making it easy to use, more employees can access anytime, anywhere
  • By providing native learning content in the native language of your workforce, learning is relevant and understandable to all employees, regardless of location.

Edflex is a software-as-a-service corporate training platform that specializes in curated learning content. Our personalized learning options can help you to ensure that DEI is prioritized at each level of talent development and each stage of career development. Whether introducing a new concept, upskilling or reskilling, Edflex supplies both the soft skills training and hard skills training that are relevant to today's workplace.


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