Leveraging Internal Mobility to Drive Diversity and Inclusion

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Oct 3, 2022

A strong internal-mobility program is an incredible asset to your business — not just for the usual and obvious reasons but because there’s also a rising narrative that it can better support diversity, equity, and inclusion, a priority for 94% of CEOs. However, many businesses find that DEI progress is an often-elusive outcome of their internal-mobility efforts.

Understanding of Diversity Data and Challenges

Today, it’s all about data because understanding the mobility of diverse employee populations at a deep level allows HR leaders to enact meaningful change. You need to be able to answer questions like:

  • Are we bringing in diverse talent at all levels of the organization?
  • Are our actions enabling the growth and development of underrepresented talent?
  • What is impacting their ability to move into other roles?

One common misconception is that an organization has one culture. In reality, your culture is made up of many subcultures. Each office, department, team, employee level, etc., has its own unique set of unwritten rules and behaviors. Recognizing how these subcultures affect the mobility of your diverse workforce is important.

Additionally, technology is emerging as the gold standard to drive internal mobility. Engaging data scientists or using technology tools can help you quickly identify trends to uncover the root cause of mobility challenges for different diverse populations. People analytics can reveal details, like the fact that women aren’t applying for open roles in a particular department. Or, that older employees aren’t showing an interest in internal postings at a certain location. You can then explore reasons through sentiment surveys or interviews.

It’s critical to gain an unbiased view into employees’ capabilities and skills adjacencies to better match them to internal roles. Companies with smaller budgets might consider running discrete pilot programs to identify pain points through initial mobility analysis and discovery, and then combine that with manual processes. 

Transparency Around Internal Hiring Processes

Think about your hiring process for external candidates. Especially in today’s tight talent market, many companies are doing everything they can to keep candidates engaged and informed. They have accelerated the hiring process to make decisions more quickly, and they continue nurturing candidates with potential for future roles.

Unfortunately, at many organizations, internal-mobility processes are manual, inconsistent, and demotivating to candidates. Too often, internal candidates aren’t aware of roles they’d be interested in and aren’t informed on where they stand in the interview process, as hiring managers fail to close the communication loop. And those who do receive feedback aren’t given clear direction on why they weren’t chosen.

When that happens, internal postings can be seen as perfunctory and employees are left with the impression that someone else was pre-selected for the role. Not only does this deflate their enthusiasm for applying for future positions, but when these individuals leave your organization, they share their concerns on sites like Glassdoor, Fishbowl, and Dipper. 

For internal-mobility efforts to drive DEI forward, you need above-board, transparent processes that eliminate any misconceptions of bias or favoritism.

Support for Underrepresented Employees

Representation matters. Your diverse employee population needs proof that your organization is committed to diversity and inclusion. All employees need to see themselves in all departments and at all levels. 

Equally important, they need support to get there. At far too many companies, internal career opportunities are more about who you know rather than what you know. To widen opportunities for employees not included in informal networks, many organizations are developing formal sponsorship efforts as part of their strategy to increase the representation of underrepresented talent, particularly in more senior roles.  

Another way to support workers is to establish an internal headhunting function. While this takes additional resources and budget, it can ensure a true, skills-based approach to mobility. You might also consider establishing this function with outside professionals who can provide an unbiased perspective and eliminate the appearance of favoritism.

Meanwhile, having people in the process to advocate specifically for underrepresented talent can create more equitable internal-mobility efforts. A great way to encourage diverse employees to apply is to amplify the promotion of your internal postings through your employee resource groups. 

Celebration of Mobility

Above all, for internal mobility to drive DEI, your business must have a culture that celebrates mobility. This is created with visible leadership commitment.

When company leaders aren’t actively promoting and advocating for internal mobility, employees can feel uncomfortable raising their hands for new roles. People might have numerous reservations: “If I change roles, will my boss resent me?” “If I don’t get the role, will they think I’m not motivated in my current position and punish me?” “How will applying to a different position impact my relationship with my peers?”

For underrepresented employees in particular, changing jobs and managers is a bit more complicated. If they have a positive, open relationship with their manager, they might fear that a new boss won’t be as supportive. 

Sustaining psychological safety throughout transition is important. And building an inclusive culture throughout the organization is key to eliminating these fears that may keep underrepresented employees from growing in their careers. 

It starts at the top. Executive leadership must communicate that they encourage internal mobility. Just as important, they should celebrate employees in their new roles in a public way, while recognizing the managers who supported the moves.

Ultimately, understanding diversity data, putting transparent processes in place, advocating for and empowering all employees, and celebrating mobility are effective ways to make progress in meeting your DEI goals through internal mobility. 

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