job mobility

How To Address Workforce Mobility Challenges By Stimulating ‘Forward Momentum’

Although discussions about the economic impact of systemic racism and how it affects people of color (POC) have become more “mainstream,” the disparities in job mobility and income remain.

According to recent research by Harvard Business Review, the difference in wages between POC workers and their white counterparts is approximately $220 billion. The disparity has a widespread effect on the broader POC community and helps perpetuate the intergenerational mobility gap that, in turn, denies families the ability to overcome poverty.

What can HR professionals and employers do to address the mobility gap to ensure that POC have the same opportunities as other workers?

Internal Aid for ‘Forward Mobility’

The first step to solving the mobility and wage disparity is to take stock of its presence in the workplace. What does it look like in your business? It’s essential to identify this because the gap might not look the same from office to office.

A first step in addressing these issues is to understand the difference between upward and forward mobility. Upward mobility refers to a person’s ability to progress in their careers, whether that’s acquiring a desired skillset or achieving a certain rank within the organizational hierarchy. Forward mobility is more closely related to equity, or how people across varying levels of the organization are paid in comparison to their colleagues.

One of the goals here is to compare the numbers of upper management in particular, of both POC and white workers, to see if one outweighs the other. In most large corporations, such a disparity not only exists but is quite blatant, according to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to BLS data, POC hold as little as 9.7% of management positions, with other positions above management level boasting similarly dismal figures. In Fortune 500 companies, for example, just 8.7% of board seats belong to minorities.

Once it is clear where to focus, ensuring that qualified POC candidates have a fair chance to progress should be a priority — including, but also beyond, a managerial level.

When internal promotions are on the table, make sure you do not overlook POC applications. Similarly, streamline the process, so it isn’t needlessly difficult for these candidates. Both steps necessitate rethinking the hiring and recruitment process.

One major area of focus should be aspects of job descriptions and hiring practices that might inadvertently alienate minority candidates. For example, requiring a specific type of technology to attend an interview or expecting a particular GPA might be limiting minority candidates. The latter, in particular, adversely impacts POC applicants who historically have a lower GPA, a fact that is sometimes attributed to the longer hours they must often work while attending and paying for school.

It is also important to note that sometimes these actions are instinctive, not necessarily done with malicious intent. Carefully considering your behavior is one way to identify and prevent sources of mobility stagnation. Leverage comprehensive data analytics to illustrate where bias might lie and guide your next moves to diversify your workforce. Use this information to fuel succession and talent planning conversations now and not at some vague point in the future.

Addressing Pay Inequality

Addressing pay inequality, which has similar racial disparities, can be approached in the same way. Take the time to examine pay discrepancies across racial or ethnic lines, as well as gender and education levels. By establishing a baseline of data, you will be able to assess where changes can be made around controlled pay-gap mechanisms and refined hiring practices to close the pay gap before employment commences.

The key to successfully implementing changes is often convincing upper management to “buy in,” an issue that can sometimes be alleviated by pointing to research, which consistently finds that companies with diverse workforces perform better and land higher returns.

Education regarding antiquated societal “truths” is another critical aspect when addressing pay inequality. For example, leaders should understand that beliefs about men being sole providers for their families are patently false.

Outside consulting firms or third-party compensation and pay equity, HR analytics platforms might also be a viable option to help eliminate pay inequality in your organization.

The lack of job mobility is a serious issue that will not fix itself. While there is overlap, it’s also important to note that mobility is not interchangeable with diversity and inclusion initiatives; the latter ensures that minority employees are treated with respect and acceptance, whereas the former focuses on job growth and professional opportunities. Consider them separate entities that each deserve attention and concern. Mobility and wage disparity deserve a targeted approach from a team with the knowledge and ability to affect lasting change.

About the Author

Dr. Tyrone Smith Jr. is a global strategy and people analytics leader driving human resources innovation and transformation. He currently serves as the Global Director, Head of People Analytics & Insights at Udemy. He has provided human capital management, people analytics and workforce planning solutions at various organizations, including Ryan, a global tax services and software provider, General Motors Financial, John Deere and Oracle.


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