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Industry Updates

Three Ways Corporate Education Can Support Diversity and Inclusivity Goals

July 25, 2022

Connell Boyle

For organizations that are looking for ways to align talent development and DE&I strategy, here are three ways employers can put these concepts into action.

Last year, I met with a company that was looking for leadership development support. At the end of the conversation, the executive I met with added that the company has diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals, and wanted to know how we could help address them. Fast forward a year: Leaders at a different company laid out their DE&I goals, which included a specific target for boosting representation in their executive ranks by a certain date. Their question: How could we help upskill their current workforce to help make progress toward that goal?

These companies understand that talent development and DE&I strategy are deeply linked. In the months ahead, I expect more companies to come to the same realization: Education benefits can be more than benefits. They can, in fact, be integral to a corporate education strategy that helps a company reach established DE&I goals.

For organizations that are looking for ways to align talent development and DE&I strategy, here are three ways employers can put these concepts into action.

1. Use education benefits to help recruit diverse employees

A growing number of companies are developing and promoting corporate education offerings as part of their recruitment efforts. Starbucks, Amazon and other companies that hire a number of workers without college degrees have been building robust education offerings in part as a way to attract talent. But they can be used in a more targeted way, to help recruit diverse employees.

Indeed, 46% of Black adults, 51% of Hispanic adults and 50% of Native Americans adults lack post-secondary education. Well-conceived education benefits—including up-front payment for college tuition (rather than reimbursement) and other features that recognize the realities of these workers’ lives—may prove to be differentiators that help employers stand out in attracting diverse talent.

2. Embed learning in DE&I-driven retention and upskilling efforts

Employee retention has become more important than ever in the current labor market. Innovative employers are finding ways to use training and development to aid with the retention of employees from historically underrepresented groups.

For instance, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer aims to increase global representation of women (to 47% from 33%) and minorities (to 25% from 19%) at the vice president level and above by 2025. After setting those goals in 2019, the company began implementing policies and programs to get there, and in 2021 it launched the Breakthrough Fellowship Program. Aiming to help enhance the company’s pipeline of diverse leaders, the program accepts applicants in their junior year of college.

Fellows ultimately complete:

  • A 10-week summer internship as rising college seniors

  • Two years of full-time employment after undergraduate graduation

  • A fully paid scholarship to complete a full-time, two-year MBA, MPH or MS Statistics program

  • A summer internship between the first and second years of the master’s program

  • Post-graduation employment

That last bullet is key: Pfizer is aiming to create strong, early bonds with its next generation of employees—and to reinforce those bonds over time. While many companies won’t be able to build programs of this size and scope, they can act on its basic principles: Set DE&I goals and then provide and fund targeted education opportunities to help underrepresented employees gain the skills necessary to advance internally.

3. Create development and DEI programs that go hand in hand

Like Pfizer, many companies have set diversity goals for their leadership ranks. But few have incorporated those goals into their education and training programs. In fact, 75% of companies don’t include DE&I in leadership development, or their overall leadership and development curricula, according to 2021 research by the Josh Bersin Company. Instead, they treat DE&I as a compliance issue.

It seems obvious that employers should consider integrating DE&I across their talent practices—and that the message should come from the top. When the CEO sets the strategy and frequently communicates DE&I progress, companies are 6.3 times more likely to have a diverse leadership team—and to be a leader in their industry segment, according to the Josh Bersin Company.

Its report offers several examples of firms that are already making significant strides:

At Herc Rental, a national equipment and tool rental company, one person is accountable for talent management, organizational development and DE&I—reinforcing that diversity and inclusion are priorities for both culture and talent.

Siemens has implemented a shadowing program where women shadow and interact with various company leaders, as part of its focus on female leadership development.

Marriott deploys a leadership development program called Talent Network Teams, in which executives talk about specific DE&I topics in a virtual setting, but are first charged with educating themselves on the topic to enable them to become a teacher/facilitator on the topic.

Industry experts like Josh Bersin and BCG point out that more diversity across the organization correlates with higher profits, better revenue growth and higher cash flow per employee. For these reasons, more corporations will continue to evolve with their DE&I strategies. However, businesses with competitive education benefits built into those strategies will be more likely to successfully execute on them.